After Human Rights Summit, ‘Let’s Open Our Hearts to Each Other’

MacKenzie Jenkins

MacKenzie Jenkins

At the July 12 memorial for Dallas’ five fallen officers, President Obama asked,

“Can we find the character, as Americans, to open our hearts to each other?”

Several days earlier, the “Human Rights Dallas” summit, sponsored by SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program, would answer that question before our president could even ask it.

Throughout the July 9 event, creative-expression group Journeyman Ink had the hundreds of community leaders and students in attendance recite one poignant truth:

“My voice has power to speak my truth and share my light.”

That message continues to resonate.

As our nation struggles to rebuild from the powerful earthquakes of violence we’ve recently experienced – and cope with aftershocks of grief, and perhaps fear – I hope we can find comfort and common ground in the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Let’s work to open our hearts to each other — to use our voices to speak our truth and share our light.

— MacKenzie Jenkins, a third-year SMU student majoring in human rights and public policy while serving as a Peer Academic Leader and Tower Scholar. Her father, Charles Jenkins, was jail manager for the Plano Police Department until his death in 2010.

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Brexit De-Brief: 10 Things Learned at Tower Center ‘Populism’ Talk

European political insider Sergey Lagodinsky was guest speaker for the recent “Populism in Europe and Germany” event sponsored by SMU’s John G. Tower Center for Political Studies. Lagodinsky, a Berlin-based attorney/author/political commentator who heads the EU/North America Department of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, was introduced by Tower Center Director James Hollifield. (Photo credit: Flickr)

1) “Reactive populism is on the rise in Europe and the U.S.,” Hollifield said before the talk. “Until recently Germany has escaped this trend. The bitter experience of Nazism seems to have inoculated Germany from radical-right politics. But will Germany continue to buck the trend?”

2) “Welcome to the Age of Populism.” Opening his discussion with this remark, Lagodinsky explained that while populism in America traditionally has been viewed as a positive reinforcement of democracy, “in Europe it carries a negative connotation of nationalism, distrust of government, anger over a stagnant economy and, chiefly, the growing migrant crisis.”

3) Populist parties vary, but share one “zero point”: “The European Union represents everything they dislike,” Lagodinsky said.

4) Is it the “House of Cards” effect? Lagodinsky laughed at this thought (he’s a fan) but thinks the idea has merit. The wildly popular Netflix series – about an innately evil, criminal, greedy world of politics – fosters distrust in politics and, in general, politicians, “many of whom are making very little money to just do what they think is right,” he said.

5) Fueling Grass-Roots Fires: Far-right populists in Europe, including Marine Le Pen of the National Front Party in France and Geert Wilders of the Dutch Freedom Party, are keenly aware of how to stoke fears (and sometimes violence) using revolutionary-tinged rhetoric bordering on or fully exhibiting racism, according to Lagodinsky.

6) The U.S. isn’t immune to No. 5. Across the pond in this country, “Americans are grappling with a political candidate who’s doing pretty much the same thing,” Lagodinsky said.

7) Authoritarianism is increasingly equated with safety and superiority. “Russian President Vladimir Putin is an example of European populism in power,” Lagodinksy said. Additionally, “People underestimate the power of Eastern Europe and its fondness for Russia.” Natives of the former Communist region, even ones living in other countries, he said, pine for the days “when things were, well, simpler.”

8) Befuddling “bromance”: In light of No. 7, Lagodinsky is intrigued that Republican Party presumptive nominee Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed respect for controversial strongmen, including Putin, and North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un.

9) People underestimate the power of social media–for good and bad. While the ‘Arab Spring’ showed that social media can have an emancipating aspect, recent political turns have shown it also can have a debilitating effect: “Self-selection of biased newsfeeds can make people feel like they’re in the majority, when in many cases, they’re not,” Lagodinsky said.

10) Everyone wants to be a victim. But there is a solution. “Name-calling never works. To call someone a ‘fascist’ instantly shuts them down, leaving no room for further discussion,” Lagodinsky said. We need to encourage a dialogue that examines the positives and negatives that each party represents or wants to achieve – then let people decide in a well-balanced, reasoned forum of ideas.”

Denise Gee

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‘Comfort Women’: ‘We Have to Confront the Historical Pain’


Lee OK-Seon flowers

Lee Ok-Seon accepts flowers after her talk at SMU. The 90-year-old South Korean is one of about 44 survivors of Japanese military sexual slavery (as “comfort women”) during World War II. Her account of the brutality she endured after her abduction at age 14 brought a hush across the filled-to-capacity McCoy Auditorium.

“Most people have little-to-no knowledge of ‘comfort women’ during the war, and certainly haven’t heard the kind of first-hand testimony European Holocaust survivors have been able to share. So it was imperative we host a program with a survivor who could speak from her own experience. Some 75 years on, the struggle for justice goes on. But we have to confront the historical pain. We can’t pretend it didn’t happen. It’s the only way our students can go into this world as educated adults and make a difference for the better.” 

3. Rick on VIETVRick Halperin, director of SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program, during VIETV coverage of the April 22 SMU event, “An Evening With Lee Ok-Seon.”

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Black Lives Matter cofounder Alicia Garza speaks at SMU

#BlackLivesMatter cofounder Alicia Garza spoke at SMU last night, where she eloquently spoke of the origin’s movements and planted several thoughts and ideas in the audience members minds.

“Hashtags don’t start social movements.”

“All lives (should) matter. That’s the truth. But in this country, black lives don’t matter. That’s why we must say, ‘black lives matter.’”

“Black lives matter less by every metric of life expectancy and wage earnings compared to white lives.”

“Black Lives Matter is not anti police. It’s anti being killed by the state for no reason.”

“Don’t sit at home and wonder which civil rights leader you would have been if you’d been alive in the 1960s. If you’re sitting at home now, you would have been sitting at home back then too. You are you. If you want to make a difference, stand up and do something.”

Garza said the origin of the movement was a “love letter to the black community” she wrote in 2013 after George Zimmerman was found innocent in the Trayvon Martin trial. (She wondered aloud why it was called “the Trayvon Martin trial” instead of “the Zimmerman trial,” when Zimmerman was supposed to be the one on trial.) Her letter, which she posted on Facebook, ended with the phrase, “Black Lives Matter,” and the movement grew from there.

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‘Rights Are Different From Mere Courtesies’: SMU Law Prof.

During his State of the Union address Dec. 6, President Obama suggested linking firearm-sale databases with the nation’s no-fly list could help prevent future acts of terrorism. In response, a compelling thought:

“As a matter of law, and as a core value of our democratic republic, we believe that rights are different than mere courtesies. Your rights to freedom of speech, to possess a firearm, to free movement, are not held at the grace and favor of the government, state or federal. … So it’s particularly disturbing … that for issues so important we would call them a constitutional right, we’re willing to have them whisked away by a list not only very difficult to determine its accuracy or success rate, but every step of the way the Department of Justice has opposed the attempts of those who feel they’re wrongly on the list to clear their names.”

SMU Dedman School of Law Prof. Jeffrey Kahn, an American constitutional law and counterterrorism expert interviewed today by “Texas Standard” host David Brown. To hear the segment (from about 2:39 to 8:09), visit


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David McCullough: On Writing Well

Esteemed historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer David McCullough captivated a crowd of SMU students, faculty and staff during a Q&A-style forum Nov. 18.

Esteemed historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer David McCullough captivated an SMU crowd Nov. 18, 2015.

Often called “America’s greatest living historian,” David McCullough visited SMU Nov. 18 not only to speak with a crowd of students, faculty and staff, but also to accept this year’s Medal of Freedom presented by the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies.

During an afternoon Q&A-style forum, McCullough shared numerous nuggets of wisdom, but his writing advice (geared to novices and professionals) was particularly inspiring:

• “Write for the ear as well as the eye. Read it out loud and you’ll immediately ‘hear’ what’s wrong with it. My wife, Rosalee — my editor-in-chief for 50 years — is my partner for that technique.”

• “The ultimate aid to navigation for writers is William Strunk & E.B. White’s book, The Elements of StyleFirst published in 1920, “It’s as good today as it ever was. It’s a must-read for writers, who should refer to it time and again.”

• “Writing doesn’t get easier as you get older. It gets more difficult. Your standards get higher.”

• “Challenge yourself by reading ‘up.’ Harry Truman, for example, read Latin for pleasure.”

• “I think all writers should take a drawing or painting class to learn how to paint with words. As Charles Dickens said, ‘Make me see.’ I try to make you see what’s happening and smell it and hear it. I want you to know what they had for dinner. I want you to know how long it took to walk from where to where.”

• McCullough is looking forward to the American Writers Museum opening in Chicago in 2017. “Up to now, Dublin, Ireland, has been the only other place with something similar. But you’d think that with all of America’s great writers, we wouldn’t still be waiting for something like that.”

• McCullough still uses a 1960s-era typewriter. Why? “Because I can’t push a button and erase a month’s worth of work.”

— Denise Gee

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Valve Software VP Doug Lombardi with the SMU Guildhall

Doug Lombardi, Steam VP, with the SMU Guildhall, 2015Valve Software executive and digital gaming insider Doug Lombardi joined the SMU Guildhall for a spirited talk on growing opportunities for independent game designers and what it takes to get a game ready for the marketplace. The event was broadcast live on Twitch.

During his talk, “Ship Something: The Steam Greenlight Process,” Lombardi shared his wisdom on both gaming and life:

On taking pride in process: “Even if you’re not charging for content, it represents you. When you ship something, you learn something.”

On setting aside egos when dealing with disagreement: “If the product wins, everyone wins.”

On making important decisions, whether about a project or your life: “Step back, take a time out. This isn’t basketball. You get more than five per half.”

On taking risks: “You’re more free now than you ever will be…. Now is your time to take risks…to learn what doesn’t work.”

On making the most of your education: “Be a sponge for info from your professors and colleagues. Someday, their advice could be the best you’ve ever heard.”

— Kathleen Tibbetts

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‘Tough’ Talk: ICE Director/SMU Alumna Sarah Saldaña ’84

Saldana at SMU“I remember you were tough on me. [Audience laughs.] Let me remind you I have national subpoena power now.”

Sarah R. Saldaña, U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement Director/SMU Dedman School of Law alumna (’84) kidding her “much admired” former professor/dean, C. Paul Rogers III, as she accepted her 2015 Hispanic Alumna Award May 21. The award luncheon, at Meadows Museum, was hosted by the Hispanic Alumni Association of SMU with support from the Latino Center for Leadership Development.


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Acclaimed statistician/forecaster Nate Silver leans in

“One of the ironies of having more data is having more misinterpretation of that data.” — Nate Silver at SMU founder Nate Silver, who calls himself an “applied statistician-journalist or something like that,” was peppered with non-stop questions during SMU’s Willis M. Tate Lecture Series Student Forum May 5. Here are a few of the most memorable exchanges (his answers italicized).

What issues would you like to explore more on

Education, including higher ed, is ripe for study, especially the U.S. News and World Report rankings. I’d also like us to take a more data-driven approach to healthcare as well as crime.

How might data science transform the healthcare industry?

There are two constraints: One, physicians and others in healthcare tend to be a tight-knit, reticent group and two, there are serious concerns about privacy issues.

What’s something you can tell us about the runup to the 2016 presidential election?

No party has had a long-running advantage because they adapt to changes of circumstances. For instance, some Republicans are de-emphasizing gay marriage and immigration issues – and the GOP has moved from talking about social issues to the economy. It’ll be a long road ahead.

Any advice for SMU students embarking on their careers?

The first thing I’d say: You can’t escape hard work. Another thing: Find problems you’re interested in and the find a way to solve them; you’ll break down your own barriers in the process. Also, be skeptical of the thing that everyone else is doing; keep an open mind.

How do we keep ourselves from just finding facts that “dress up” our own agendas?

Be skeptical of your own belief system.

SMU Meadows Asst. Prof. Jake Batsell mentioned his new media for entrepreneurship class and asked if had experienced a “pivot” moment that’s led them to change their approach.

Beyond staying hyper-focused on the long-form pieces we call “jumbo” stories, we’re looking at ways to more quickly and intelligently respond to the news. We’re also spending more time on audience development. We know our subject matter appeals to smart, young people, so we first thought, hey, we’ll publish stuff and those people will just find it. We’re realizing now it doesn’t quite work that way.

How would you re-design a typical university statistics class (typically seen as gruelingly boring)?

I say teach it like a good literature class: Spend 75 to 80 percent of the time focused on great works of writing and don’t have a lot of conversation about syntax.

Dedman Law Professor Emeritus Fred Moss asked, “I want to get down to the nitty gritty. Do you think the Texas Rangers will finish … in the basement?”

Um. Probably.

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SMU Dedman College Dean on Embrey Human Rights Program

DiPiero SMU“Fundamentally what we look at in Dedman College is what it means to be human. I can’t really think of anything more important than the human rights program for looking at ethical responsibilities … and to understand how we relate to each other and our communities.”

Thomas DiPiero, dean of SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, in new video about the Embrey Human Rights Program:

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