SMU Alum: ‘Everything we do in life involves human rights’

SMU alumna Ashley Park ’17 reads from one of her 2016 “Holocaust Poland” trip journals.

At a recent party hosted by SMU alums Trey Velvin ’86 & Dee Velvin ’87 in support of the Embrey Human Rights Program’s new book No Resting Place: Holocaust Poland (slideshow above)2017 SMU alumna Ashley Park read from one of two journals she kept during the “Holocaust Poland” trip she took in 2016. Somewhere near Lublin, Poland, she wrote:

“[SMU student] Karly Zrake read a poem she wrote and it was really good. It was about the Krepiecki Forest being a place of sanctuary and solace, and how people came and desecrated that. … I can’t believe it’s Christmas Eve today. I miss my family so much. I so wish I could be warm and surrounded by people who love me.
… I’m crying now.”

Ashley says the three undergraduate degrees she holds from SMU – in human rights, English and business – “have proved the perfect mix” for her post-graduation job: As a re-entry specialist for The Securis Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing recidivism rates in America.

“People are sometimes surprised to learn you can earn a degree in human rights from SMU. But everything we do in life involves human rights. Everything.”

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Remembering SMU’s Civil Rights Champion, Dr. Dennis Simon

SMU Political Science Prof. Dennis Simon (first row, second from right) helped lead the way for the success of the Civil Rights Pilgrimage. Dr. Simon passed away Feb. 12 after a long illness.

SMU will remember the meaningful life and legacy of political science Prof. Dennis Simon today (Monday, April 3) at 2 p.m. in Perkins Chapel.

Key to Dr. Simon’s nationally respected career was his leadership in SMU’s Civil Rights Pilgrimage, an eight-day bus journey that takes SMU students, faculty and staff through the American South to see the places and meet the people involved in the Civil Rights struggle.

The trip is a powerful force for learning and change, as two SMU students recently told The Daily Campus:

“Standing on the steps of Little Rock Central High School gave me a profound appreciation of being able to obtain my education at Southern Methodist University.”
– SMU junior James Samuel

“The only way to combat … oppressive patterns is to learn the history of this country and stop trying to be so comfortable … We will only be fully human when we can identify with the pain of others and say everyone’s pain matters.”
– SMU senior Ashley Park

At the request of Dr. Simon’s family, memorial gifts should support SMU’s Civil Rights Pilgrimage (, a collaboration between the Office of the Chaplain and the Embrey Human Rights Program.

Gifts of fond memories about Dr. Simon also can be made via the Comments section of this post.

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Human rights grad’s ‘dream job’ to help program fulfill its dreams

“The Embrey Human Rights High School Chapters project is in its infancy, but
we’re cultivating it based on the energy we get from DFW youth, who really want
meaningful human rights education.”

Lisa Walters-Vargas

–  Lisa Walters-Vargas,
new community outreach coordinator
for the Embrey Human Rights Program.

After earning B.S. degrees in human rights, Spanish, and cultural anthropology
from SMU in 2014, Lisa headed to Quito, Ecuador, to work with United to Benefit Ecuadorian Children (and last April helped
with earthquake disaster relief).

Then came two momentous opportunities: Marrying the love of her life and landing her
SMU “dream job.”

While everyone’s happy to have Lisa 2,500
miles closer to home, one person has been positively beaming since her return to campus last October: Her father and career inspiration, SMU Assistant Police Chief Jim Walters.
(And for their story, watch this.)

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Oh, myyyy: George Takei to talk at SMU Feb. 2


With humorous and outspoken charm, actor-activist George Takei will speak at SMU Thursday, Feb. 2, at 6:30 p.m. at McFarlin Auditorium. The sold-out “Upstander” Series show is being sponsored by SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program and the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance.
(For event details, see

Expect Takei to share his no-holds-barred views on certain controversial current events and other topics through the lens of a human rights champion – views that have won him more than 10 million Facebook “likes” and two million Twitter followers.

“Some know me as Mr. Sulu from ‘Star Trek,’ but I hope all know me as a believer in, and a fighter for, the equality and dignity of all human beings,” he says.



Brush up on your knowledge of George Takei via 10 fast-facts:

Takei as a toddler.

  • George Hosato Takei, born in Los Angeles in 1937, was named by his Anglophile father in honor of England’s King George VI.
  • In 1942, Takei and his family were among the estimated 120,000 Japanese-Americans forced into internment camps during World War II. In 1981, he testified before Congress about his experiences in camps in California and Arkansas. “I remember the barbed wire and the guard towers and the machine guns [that] became … my normality,” he said, noting it’s important for a country “to know about its glorious achievements but also know where its ideals failed, in order to keep that from happening again.”
  • Takei had relatives killed during the atomic bombing in Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945.
  • In 2005, Takei revealed to Frontiers magazine that he is gay: “It’s not really coming out, which suggests opening a door and stepping through,” he told the interviewer. “It’s more like a long, long walk through what began as a narrow corridor that starts to widen.” Three years afterward, Takei and his partner Brad Altman (who’ve been together nearly 30 years) were married at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.
  • In 2009, Takei and Altman became the first same-sex couple to appear on “The Newlywed Game” television show.
  • Takei took to Facebook to defend Miss America 2014 Nina Davuluri, whose Indian heritage prompted a backlash of racist and xenophobic comments. During a joint interview with Takei on ABC, Davuluri told him she was a “Trekkie”— prompting Takei to respond, “In Star Trek we have this creed: ‘Infinite diversity in infinite combinations.’ That’s what Starfleet was all about, so you’re a part of that.”
  • In 2014, Takei, a former Boy Scout, raised $100,000 to help an adult Eagle Scout create a web series about being forced out of the Boy Scouts of America by its (then) anti-gay adult policy. “This web series will help educate and inform, as well as entertain. … Let’s make this happen.” The next year, the BSA ended its ban on openly gay adult leaders.
  • Asteroid 7307 Takei is named in his honor. “I am now a heavenly body,” Takei said upon learning the news, which “came out of the clear, blue sky – just like an asteroid.”
  • To date, Takei has worked on 34 films, 64 television shows and nine stage performances, and been in numerous commercials. Before his now legendary role in the mega-hit TV series, “Star Trek” (1966-1969), he appeared on such shows as “Perry Mason” (1959), “The Twilight Zone” (1964), “My Three Sons” (1965) and “Mission Impossible” (1966).
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‘Voices’ from SMU’s 2016 ‘Triumph of the Spirit’ Awards

kessler-sign-detailA large crowd gathered at The Kessler Theater Nov. 16 to honor the 2016 winners of the “Triumph of the Spirit” humanitarian awards sponsored by SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program. In keeping with the evening’s theme, “Voices,” we’re inspired to share a few of those here, as well as some snapshots from the celebration.

“May we honor the courageous tonight — and dignify the human experience through poetry, music and art. May we challenge and embolden all of you to be powerful change-makers in every way possible.”
Rick Halperin, SMU Embrey Human Rights Program Director

“Academics, advocacy and action. Engaging in all three at SMU has been a true honor.”
MacKenzie Jenkins, SMU human rights/political studies major 

“Rick Halperin gave me a bracelet that says, ‘There’s no such thing as a lesser person.’ What a wonderful world this would be if we all followed that.”
Carol Brady Houston, “Triumph of the Spirit” Local Winner

“All the kids we’re credited for changing their lives for the better are actually changing our lives for the better.”
Dr. Georges Bwelle, “Triumph of the Spirit” Global Winner


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5 Questions for a Decorated Vet: SMU Law Prof. Chris Jenks

At far right, Col. Mel Jenks (father of Lt. Col./SMU Law Prof. Chris Jenks) talks with Gen. William C. Westmoreland and another officer during the Vietnam War.

At far right, U.S. Army Col. Mel Jenks (father of Lt. Col./SMU Law Prof. Chris Jenks) talks with Gen. William Westmoreland, far left, and another officer during the Vietnam War.

Chris Jenks, SMU Dedman Law Prof./U.S. Army Lt. Col (ret.)

SMU Dedman Law Prof. Chris Jenks, U.S. Army Lt. Col (ret.)

DALLAS (SMU) – Following the recent SMU Tower Center event, “Does America Still Need the Army?” we posed that question (and four others) to SMU Dedman School of Law Prof./U.S. Army Lt. Col. (ret.) Chris Jenks, director of SMU’s Criminal Justice Clinic. Based on his distinguished military career, Jenks is regularly tapped by the Department of Defense and others to provide legal insight into the armed forces, war and humanitarian law issues.

Before Jenks joined SMU in 2012, the Bronze Star recipient was chief of the International Law Branch of the Office of Judge Advocate General at the Pentagon. Earlier he served as lead prosecutor for the Army’s first counterterrorism case against a U.S. National Guard soldier attempting to aid Al Qaeda.

In 2004, Jenks deployed to Mosul, Iraq, and served as chief legal advisor to a Stryker Brigade combat team of more than 4,000 soldiers. There he provided targeting advice for the employment of artillery, close air support and direct-fire weapons during enemy engagements in a city of 2 million. He also advised investigations and prosecuted military crimes involving the civilian population, detainee abuse and fratricide.

Prof. Jenks’ grandfather, U.S. Army Col. Ed Haughney, provided military leadership in three wars.

Jenks is a third-generation Army officer. His father, Col. Mel Jenks, was an infantry officer during the Vietnam War. His grandfather, Col. Ed Haughney, served as an artillery officer in World War II, in the JAG Corps in Japan during the Korean War, and as the head military lawyer during the Vietnam War.

So, does America still need the Army?

There’s no question: Our country wouldn’t exist but for the Army and the idea of the citizen-soldier. That said, I think there should be more discussion in the U.S. about foreign policy and the role of the Army and other armed forces in support of our nation’s interests, domestic and abroad. The military is an important tool in the U.S. foreign policy toolbox. But it’s a blunt tool that should be used sparingly, despite technological advancements. The last 15 years the U.S. has been too quick to employ the military for nation-building tasks, for which it is poorly suited.

What’s your take on Veteran’s Day?

While Veteran’s Day tributes are appropriate and appreciated, there’s a growing divide between civil society and the U.S. military. A very small percentage of Americans have either directly or indirectly been impacted by our nation’s engagement in persistent armed conflict for more than 15 years now. That’s a problematic and worrying trend. At the end of our next president’s first term, we will have young adults entering college who were born after 9/11. 

While many Americans consider the [national security
and military] measures taken since 9/11 as the exception,
for an increasing number of Americans, it’s all they’ve
ever known – it’s their normal.”

What are you most proud of accomplishing?

I’m proud of having served in Mosul, Iraq, during Operation Iraqi Freedom. I was around tremendously talented and dedicated soldiers, non-commissioned officers and officers, performing tasks they were trained for, and not – and all in an austere, stressful, life-threatening environment. It was an intense experience which I have no desire to repeat, but at the same time I will forever appreciate it.

Lt. Col. Chris Jenks, second from right, with his team in Mosul, Iraq.

Lt. Col. Jenks, second from right, with his team in Mosul, Iraq.

As the third generation of Army officers, how do you stand out?

My career has been a hybrid of the paths my father and grandfather followed. I’m glad I could serve as a combat arms officer before transitioning to the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps. Having been an infantry officer I was a much more effective legal advisor.

Any advice for people thinking of joining the military?

I hope all Americans will consider how they can serve their country – in the military, in federal, state and local government, or as volunteers in their community. Military service entails sacrifice, but with that comes tremendous rewards. For many, service yields an unparalleled sense of purpose and accomplishment.

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The Rest of the Storey: SMU’s Ties to Nuremberg & More

Nazi defendants listen to U.S. prosecutors, including former SMU Law Dean Robert Storey, during the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg, Germany. [Photo ©Bettmann/CORBIS]

Most people know the Nuremberg Trials held high-ranking Nazis accountable for heinous World War II crimes. But few knew SMU’s connection to “the greatest trial in history” until Dedman School of Law hosted two events Oct. 24 to commemorate the Trials’ 70th anniversary.

At the first event, “The Nuremberg Tribunals’ Legacy: SMU’s Role in Seeking Justice,
Then & Now,”
 legal and human rights scholars highlighted the unique fact that
four former SMU law professors – Robert Storey, Whitney Harris, Walter Brudno and Jan Charmatz – prosecuted high-profile Nuremberg cases ranging from crimes committed by the Nazi secret police to the Third Reich’s looting of priceless European art.

“For SMU to have had only one professor involved in the Nuremberg Trials would be a badge of honor. But to have
had four? That’s extraordinary.”
– Dedman Law Prof. Chris Jenks, director of SMU’s Criminal Justice Clinic and expert in the law of armed conflict.

Following the Trials – which laid the foundation for international and human rights law – U.S. Army Col. Storey, a native Texan, joined SMU as law dean in 1947.

“Dean Storey returned from Nuremberg realizing American lawyers didn’t know that much about international law.
He also wanted to create a world that would never need
another Nuremberg.”
Michael Marchand, president of The Center for American
& International Law
 (CAIL), for which Storey was founding president from 1947–1972.

Storey set out to make the school “an international law center.” He also created a ground-breaking clinics program, inspired in part to help the large number of émigrés to the U.S. who had been displaced by the devastating war.

Dedman Law’s innovative clinics now comprise nearly a dozen civil and criminal law programs that have helped more than 20,000 people with no-cost or low-cost legal aid – while also providing law students with valuable training.

The evening event, “The Nuremberg Trials: 70 Years Later,” showcased rare items Storey collected as Nuremberg’s executive trial counsel (the right hand of lead prosecutor, Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson): A copy of German chancellor
Adolf Hitler’s marriage certificate; a scrapbook of family photos belonging to virulently anti-Semitic Nazi propagandist Julius Streicher; and documents shedding light on the unprecedented series of trials known officially as the International Military Tribunal.

“Based in Paris, Storey oversaw the collection of reams of evidence, which provided the smoking gun for the Trials – one in many ways that was led by the Americans.” The U.S.-led delegation employed more than 600 people, compared to 168 who worked for the British and less than half that number who worked for the French and Soviets combined.
– St. John’s University law professor/historian John Q. Barrett, board member of the Robert H. Jackson Center

Why did the Germans have so much documentation related to their crimes?”
 Moderator/KERA host Lee Cullum
“They thought they were recording their greatness for the Thousand Year-Reich.”
– Panelist John Q. Barrett

“The world united by the Nuremberg Trials ran aground on the shores of Cold War politics.”
 Lelia Sadat, Washington University School of Law’s James Carr Professor of International Criminal Law, director of the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute and International Criminal Court Special Adviser on Crimes Against Humanity.

“The U.N. was not created to take mankind to heaven but to save humanity from hell.” — Panelist Sadatquoting former U.N.
Sec. Gen. Dag Hammarskjöld.

“What are the leading challenges to world peace?”
– moderator/KERA host Lee Cullum
• “We’re battling people who don’t follow the established laws of armed conflict – people to whom the Geneva Conventions seem quaint.”
• “After 9/11, America went down a very dark road. Our moral stature for calling out others for torture has now come into question, and we’re paying a terrible price for that.”
• “The rise of social media has a tsunami of data coming at us – a million terabytes a day. But 99.9% of it is worthless in a court of law, since finding and verifying the sources is like looking for a needle in a haystack.”
Syracuse University College of Law Prof. David Crane, chief prosecutor of the war crimes trial of Charles Taylor, convicted for the deaths of 1.2 million West Africans.

“We’re proud of Dean Storey’s work, which we endeavor to continue through our scholarship, course offerings, amazing externships, trips and events. Ultimately, though, it’s our SMU students and graduates who, through their efforts in human rights and international criminal law, not only will continue Storey’s work, but also inspire the next generation of leaders.”
– Dedman Law Prof. Jenks

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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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