Grad Ketetha Olengue: A heart-felt mission to help others

Ketetha-OlengueFor SMU graduating senior Ketetha Olengue, wearing a pacemaker isn’t a hindrance. It’s what spurs her desire to help people battling both heart conditions and “the human condition,” she says.

On Saturday, Ketetha will earn two degrees that will send her on her way to becoming a cardiologist: a B.S. in computer science from the Lyle School of Engineering and a B.A. in biology from Dedman College of Humanities & Sciences. After four successful years as a SMU President’s Scholar (a merit-based scholarship paying full-tuition and fees), Ketetha can now celebrate her acceptance into the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, where she’ll receive a full-tuition scholarship.

Ketetha traces her physical and emotional strength to one of her life’s lowest moments, when, at age 9, the first of three pacemaker surgeries left her with a significant scar. Her maternal grandmother, in Burkina Faso, Africa, told her, “Do not cry. It is a souvenir.” From then on Ketetha would see her congenital heart condition “as what makes me different,” she says, “and what will help me make a difference in the lives of others.” READ MORE

Rick Halperin, Embrey Human Rights Program, quoted in Chronicle of Higher Education about the history of student hunger strikes

Chronicle of Higher Education

The History — and Health Implications — of Student Hunger Strikes

A hunger strike at Tufts University stretched into its sixth day on Friday, with five students refusing to eat until the administration reverses a decision to lay off 20 janitors. Tufts officials say the strikers, and a larger group of students who are camping on the university quad, are free to remain as long as they comply with the Massachusetts institution’s policies.

By choosing to fast, the students have joined a long tradition of campus activism: Hunger strikes have always been part of the repertoire of nonviolent protesters, at colleges and elsewhere. The strikes can be uniquely difficult for colleges to deal with, both because of concerns over participants’ health and because there’s no playbook pointing to a clear response. Here are answers to some key questions about campus hunger strikes. READ MORE

Rick Halperin, Embrey Human Rights, holocaust survivors shared stories last month at SMU

Texas Jewish Post

Originally Posted: April 30, 2015

DALLAS — Rosa Blum and Bernhard Storch recounted their nightmarish World War II experiences in great detail before a packed Southern Methodist University audience last week.
Blum, 86, of Dallas, is an Auschwitz survivor. Storch, 93, of New York, was imprisoned in a Soviet labor camp before becoming a death camp liberator in the Polish army.
These April 23 presentations in SMU’s Elizabeth Perkins Prothro Great Hall comprised the “Reflections from Survivors & Liberators of Nazi Death Camps” event — held in recognition of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of concentration camps at the end of World War II.
The evening was sponsored by the Dallas Holocaust Museum Center for Education and Tolerance and SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program.
After Storch and Blum discussed their respective histories at length, there was no disputing the respect and wonder they had earned from their audience. It led to a standing ovation, numerous handshakes, many, many hugs — and even autograph requests.
Earlier in the evening, Mary Pat Higgins, CEO and president of the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance, effectively commenced the proceedings by introducing Embrey Human Rights Director Rick Halperin.
Halperin told the audience they were being afforded the rare opportunity to learn about the Holocaust firsthand from the very last generation of people to have experienced it.
Halperin went so far as to urge audience members to offer hugs to Storch and Blum after they had shared their memories of the Holocaust.
Answering a question from the audience, Blum explained how she refused to return to the place where she had faced Holocaust horrors — even at the expense of property and belongings she might have claimed on behalf of her wealthy family.
“I never went back,” she said. “I could never face that emptiness. … There is nothing, nobody there for me or my family. I know many people who went there and came back hurt. I never wanted to see that blankness. That would be the wrong thing for me. … So I never went back and I never claimed anything. I wanted to live my life the way I wanted to live it.” READ MORE

Nazi death camps survivor & liberator to discuss Holocaust experiences for 70th anniversary commemoration at SMU on April 23


Polish Army veteran Bernhard Storch visited Auschwitz in 2012 to commemorate the anniversary of its liberation. Credit: Wall Street Journal
Polish Army veteran Bernhard Storch visited Auschwitz in 2012 to commemorate the anniversary of its liberation. Credit: Wall Street Journal

With this year marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of concentration camps at the end of World War II, SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program will sponsor “Reflections from Survivors & Liberators of Nazi Death Camps” on Thursday, April 23, from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Elizabeth Perkins Prothro Great Hall, 5901 Bishop Blvd., on the SMU campus.

The free public event, co-sponsored by the Dallas Holocaust Museum Center for Education and Tolerance, will feature Holocaust survivor Rosa Blum, 86, of Dallas, and liberator Bernhard Storch, 93, of New York.

“This is an increasingly rare opportunity to hear first-hand about the Holocaust from the last generation of its survivors,” says Embrey Human Rights Director Rick Halperin. “It’s most unusual to get the perspective of a liberator who accompanied Soviet forces through areas never seen by American or British armies.”

During the Holocaust (1933 to 1945), 11 million people, including six million Jews and five million others, were killed by Nazi Germany and its collaborators who engaged in ethnic, political and social “cleansing.”

Blum was deported from her native Romania to Auschwitz in Poland when she was 15. She still bears mental and physical scars — the latter delivered by Dr. Josef Mengele. During the “selection” process that sorted prisoners for work or execution, the “Angel of Death” beat Blum for the emotional outburst she showed when he decided her mother should die and she should live. They were torn from each other’s arms. Blum ultimately would be forced to work as an assistant in the same hospital where Mengele conducted his ghastly “research.”

The horrific acts of cruelty she witnessed destroyed her. “I was not the same anymore,” Blum has said.

Blum was later shipped to the Dachau camp in Germany, where she was during its liberation by U.S. Army forces on April 29, 1945. In 1950 she moved to the U.S. and started a family.

Storch was a teen-ager in 1939 when both Germany and the Soviet Union invaded his native Poland. While trying to escape to safety, Storch was captured by Soviet forces and sent to work in a Siberian labor camp, where he remained until the Soviet Union declared war on Germany in 1941 and as part of a treaty with allies U.S. and Great Britain, Polish citizens were freed from Russian slave labor camps. Storch returned home to fight with the resistance and ultimately helped liberate the Nazi death camps Sobibor, Majdanek and Chelmno.

“In Majdanek, we saw a mountain of human ash, with human bones scattered in between. The feeling I had is still with me; it’s just indescribable … complete shock. There were warehouses with hundreds of thousands of shoes sorted out,” Storch recalled. “The irony of the thing was that Polish people were living outside the camp, farming, as if nothing were happening.”

After discovering his entire family had been killed by the Nazis, Storch and his wife, Ruth, also a Holocaust survivor, emigrated to the U.S. in 1947.

“For 25 years I did not discuss the Holocaust; it was just too painful. Eventually I opened up and now lecture at schools, emphasizing Jewish armed resistance in World War II.”

Storch is author of the 2012 book, World War II Warriors: My Own Recollections of World War II. (For a “Voice of Russia” interview with Storch in English, visit

For more details about SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program, which conducts an annual two-week Holocaust study pilgrimage to Poland each December and also hosts Holocaust-focused trips to other countries, contact or 214-768-8347.

Rick Halperin, Embrey Human Rights Program, in USA Today


April 8, 2015

Supreme Court gives new life to death penalty debate

WASHINGTON — The state that plans to kill Kent Sprouse on Thursday recently received a new supply of pentobarbital, the drug of choice for executioners in a country fast running out of humane ways to perform lethal injections.

That should give Texas enough of the barbiturate to execute four death row inmates at its Huntsville state penitentiary this month and maintain its status as the nation’s leader in lethal injections — more than 500 since it became the first to use that method in 1982.

But other states — and some of the prisoners they have executed of late — can’t find pharmacies willing to supply drugs that can kill reliably, without the gasps and groans the Supreme Court has indicated may violate the Constitution’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

In three weeks, the justices will consider a challenge from three death row inmates to Oklahoma’s lethal injection method, one that’s used by several other states. A ruling against the use of midazolam, a sedative that lacks the knockout punch of pentobarbital, as part of a three-drug cocktail would further crimp the country’s ability to execute prisoners.

Even if the court does not rule against Oklahoma, a number of other developments are pointing toward the diminution of the death penalty in America:

• Six states — New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, Illinois, Connecticut and Maryland — have abolished capital punishment since 2004.

• Several other states have imposed moratoriums on lethal injections because of problems, ranging from botched executions in Oklahoma and Ohio to a “cloudy” drug concoction in Georgia.

• The Supreme Court has ruled that juveniles and people with intellectual disabilities cannot be executed, while judges, juries and prosecutors have turned increasingly to life sentences without the possibility of parole.

• Just last month, both the American Pharmacists Association and the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacies discouraged their members from participating in the process. The U.S. group called it “fundamentally contrary to the role of pharmacists as providers of health care.”

• The difficulties involved in lethal injections are forcing states with capital punishment laws to rejuvenate backup methods once viewed as beyond the pale. Tennessee would allow electrocution, Utah death by firing squad. Now Oklahoma lawmakers are moving toward legalizing the use of nitrogen gas.

“The lethal injection issues are coming at a critical juncture,” says Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. Capital punishment is declining, he notes, “judicially, legislatively and as a matter of practice – all at the same time.”


Death row inmate Richard Glossip and two others are challenging Oklahoma’s use of a controversial three-drug cocktail for lethal injections. (Photo: AP)
There is good reason to believe the Supreme Court won’t help that trend April 29 when it considers Glossip v. Gross — a case called Warner v. Gross until the justices refused to stop Charles Warner’s lethal injection in January.

Despite its rulings abolishing the death penalty for people with intellectual disabilities in 2002 and for juveniles younger than 18 in 2005, the conservative-leaning court has shown little inclination to move much further. Only four votes were needed to accept the Oklahoma case. Only the use of midazolam as part of a three-drug protocol is in jeopardy.

That’s not the same three-drug protocol the court upheld in Baze v. Rees, the 2008 Kentucky case that upheld the method of lethal injection used in most states at the time. Midazolam was implicated in three botched executions last year in Ohio, Oklahoma and Arizona, where prisoners gasped, groaned and snorted before succumbing.

Although Florida and Oklahoma used that protocol successfully in January, Texas and Missouri have had fewer problems with pentobarbital. The problem is in getting a reliable supply of any lethal injection drugs following the European Union’s export ban in 2011.

States that have turned to compounding pharmacies for their drugs are running into increased resistance — for good reason, says David Miller, executive vice president of the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists.

“As a pharmacist, I was trained to take care of people,” Miller says. “This is not our business. Our business is in healing.”

The court will hear the challenge from Richard Glossip, John Grant and Benjamin Cole, whose executions had been scheduled for January, February and March. Glossip was convicted of paying another man to kill the owner of the Oklahoma City budget motel where he worked as manager. He has long declared his innocence.

The battle lines in Oklahoma are clear. The state, which not only agreed to postpone those executions but asked the court to do so, hopes for a clear victory.

“The families of the victims in these three cases have waited a combined 48 years for the sentences of these heinous crimes to be carried out,” Attorney General Scott Pruitt has said.

The best that death penalty opponents likely can hope for is a narrow decision restricting the use of midazolam.

“I do not think the court is going to open the Pandora’s box to broader discussions about the nature of lethal injection as a broad topic or the death penalty in general,” says Rick Halperin, director of the Human Rights Education Program at Texas’ Southern Methodist University. READ MORE

Rick Halperin, Embrey Human Rights, reactions to new policy against selling execution drugs

Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

Originally Posted: March 31, 2015

AUSTIN — Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, the state of Texas has executed more than a third of all inmates in the nation.

But Texas and seven others that use pentobarbital — a sedative and sleep-inducing drug — to execute inmates find themselves with a short supply of the barbiturate.

To complicate matters, at their annual meeting in San Diego, the American Pharmacists Association delegates on Monday adopted a policy that makes an ethical stand against supplying such drugs to those states on grounds that the drugs they sell are for helping people, not for killing them.

“Pharmacists are health care providers and pharmacist participation in executions conflicts with the profession’s role on the patient health care team,” the association’s CEO Thomas Menighan said in a statement posted on the organization’s website. READ MORE

Human Rights Scholarship Established to honor slain dallas youth

Daily Campus

Originally Posted: March 31, 2015

By Megan Sunderland

In 1973, the Senate’s hearings on Watergate began, the Supreme Court decided on Roe v. Wade, and “Schoolhouse Rock!” premiered on ABC. 1973 was also the year that 12-year-old Santos Rodriguez was fatally shot by a police officer in Dallas, an incident that is largely unknown to the citizens of the United States, even those of the city, today.

Dr. Rick Halperin, a professor and the director of the Embrey Human Rights Program at SMU, was working on his master’s degree at the university when the incident occurred on July 24, 1973.

“I was shocked at the killing of that young boy. I was certainly not shocked that the riot happened four days later, but the killing was just beyond egregious,” said Halperin.

On that morning in 1973, Rodriguez and his 13-year-old brother, David, were dragged from their home by police, handcuffed, and forced into a police car to be questioned about stealing $8 from a soda vending machine. At one point, Police Officer Darrell L. Cain placed his gun to Rodriguez’s head to coax the boy into giving information. He fired the gun once without discharging a bullet, but his second pull of the trigger released the bullet that killed Rodriguez. Through fingerprint evidence, the boys maintained their innocence. READ MORE

New courses help students shape ethical dialogue in variety of fields

DALLAS (SMU) – Nine new courses to be taught at SMU beginning this fall aim to address real-world ethical challenges from the political science realm to the video game industry.

With $128,000 in grants from SMU’s Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics & Public Responsibility, many of the 25 faculty members who developed the courses or have sponsored ethics-focused research grants gathered March 19-22 in Taos for a ethics course development and writing workshop.

“We have long felt that professors are among the most influential people in a student’s college life. If their professors write about, talk about and teach ethics, students will see ethics as important and worthy of attention,” says Maguire Center Director Rita Kirk.

The grants are part of a half-million dollar, five-year incentive award offered by the Maguire Center to professors for course development and research publishing. (For recipients, see below.)

SMU Political Science Professor Matthew Wilson says his course “Ethics of Revolution and Civil Disobedience” will reflect current political issues students see in everyday life.

“Ethical-issues discussions surrounding resistance to the state are especially timely, given the current debates over conscientious objections to vaccination, the Obamacare contraception funding mandate and same-sex marriage,” he says.

“As our society continues to become more and more diverse in its mix of religious and philosophical beliefs, a growing number of Americans will find that they have significant moral objections to some aspect of government policy,” Wilson says. “When are they duty-bound to subordinate their own consciences and obey, and when are they ethically permitted, or even obligated, to resist? That’s the core question this class will explore.”

SMU Religious Studies Professor G. William Barnard will guide students through the complexities of world religions “to more consciously articulate and address difficult moral issues within the matrix of their own lives,” he says. READ MORE

Advocacy, creativity can fight poverty, journalist says at CitySquare event

Dallas Morning News

Originally Posted: March 20, 2015


CitySquare does its part to fight poverty in Dallas. Through service, advocacy and friendship, the nonprofit has been at the forefront. Yet challenges remain.

Journalist Nicholas Kristof talked about these challenges in a breakfast program Thursday at Southern Methodist University.

Lauren Embrey, president and CEO of the Embrey Family Foundation, introduced him as someone who “uses the gift of journalism to shine a light on injustice in the world.”

Kristof travels extensively and has written columns and books about human courage and sacrifice. At the breakfast, he shared stories both heartwarming and heartbreaking. One was about Judge Olly Neal of Arkansas, a young troublemaker whose life was transformed by a kind librarian.

Lives can be changed by early intervention and hugs, he added. Also, coaching parents can make a difference. On a larger scale, Kristof said smarter advocacy and a creative policy are needed.

“Advocacy is a place to start,” he said “We need to build bridges and look for common ground.”

To learn more about CitySquare, visit READ MORE

Dallas mayor gives $10,000 to new Santos Rodriguez scholarship at SMU

Dallas Morning News

Originally Posted: March 16, 2015

Mayor Mike Rawlings became the first private donor to the Santos Rodriguez Memorial Scholarship at Southern Methodist University. This weekend, he pledged a personal check of $10,000 for the new SMU endowment fund. Applicants must seek a degree in the university’s human rights program.

“Symbolically, naming it for him was poetic,” Rawlings said in a phone interview.

Santos Rodriguez was 12 when he was pulled from his grandfather’s home on July 24, 1973, by a Dallas police officer and taken for an interrogation inside the police car. At issue: a soda pop machine theft of about $8.

Santos’ life ended when the officer fired a bullet into his left temple in what seemed like a horrific game of Russian roulette.

The Dallas police officer, Darrell Cain, was indicted and sentenced to five years.

According to the trial transcript, Cain admitted he was trying to scare Santos with his gun, saying “Tell the truth.”
Santos replied, “I am telling the truth.” READ MORE