Originally Posted: December 11, 2015
As tribute to 30 years of teaching at SMU and five-plus decades of social activism, the Dallas Peace & Justice Center has awarded Embrey Human Rights Program Director Rick Halperin with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
During his acceptance speech at a celebration dinner Dec. 3, Halperin turned the spotlight from himself to others, asking 10 SMU students in attendance to stand. “I want to show you the face of the future,” Halperin said of the human rights majors and minors. “This is what hope looks like.”
Since joining SMU in 1985, the popular teacher has taught an estimated 5,000 students in history courses, as well as human rights classes that began in 1990.
Philanthropist sisters and SMU alumnae Lauren and Gayle Embrey were inspired to fund the Embrey Human Rights Program in 2006, with Halperin at the helm, after Lauren took one of Halperin’s master’s-level human rights classes and a Holocaust study trip he led to Poland. (Halperin has been offering the immersive trip to the SMU community since 1996.)
Over the last nine years the Embrey Human Rights Program has hosted numerous eye-opening public events devoted to issues of social justice. It also has sponsored travel opportunities that regularly introduce students to struggling countries ranging from Rwanda to Cambodia — and this summer led a 10-day American West trip to address past and present struggles faced by our own nation’s “too often-forgotten indigenous people.”
The program also has continually developed a compelling mix of human rights courses. An expansion of interdisciplinary classes allowed SMU to begin offering a human rights minor in 2007, followed by a Master of Liberal Studies degree in Human Rights and Social Justice two years later.
In the year ahead (2016), the Embrey Human Rights Program will celebrate its tenth year and 20th anniversary for Halperin-guided trips to Poland.
But for Halperin, here’s the biggest accomplishment: SMU is the only university in the South – and one of just seven in the U.S. – to offer an undergraduate degree in human rights.
Since SMU first began offering a bachelor of arts in human rights in 2012, about 50 students have earned the degree, one allowing them to recognize and resolve vital human rights issues in fields ranging from international law to medicine. Increasingly, more SMU students are eager to follow suit: Nearly two dozen are expected to earn the degree in May 2016.
Beyond his work at SMU, Halperin has held numerous leadership positions in human rights and social justice organizations. During his more than 40-year affiliation with Amnesty International USA, he has served as chair of its board of directors three times. He also has served on the boards of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, the Center for Survivors of Torture, the International Rescue Committee and the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. He has participated in a U.N. human rights delegation that inspected Irish prison conditions in Dublin and Belfast as well as in delegations monitoring human rights in El Salvador and Palestinian refugee camps in Gaza.
Halperin holds a Ph.D. in Southern U.S. history from Auburn University; a M.A. in Southern U.S. history from Southern Methodist University; and a B.A. in U.S. history from George Washington University. READ MORE