The following is from the July 31, 2008, edition of Pegasus News.
By Erin Rice
There are two things you notice immediately after you step into the office of Dr. Rick Halperin, director of SMU's Human Rights Education Program.
First, one can hardly navigate the triangular space through the various stacks of books. Completely filling the bookcase along the far wall, numberous texts on human rights, peace, Rwanda, etc. are stacked on the floor behind and in front of his desk, on his desk, on chairs, and nearly spilling out in the hallway of SMU’s historic Dallas Hall.
Despite the physical obstructions, Halperin is surprisingly accessible, which is the second thing you notice right away. Speaking with a sometimes-heavy Alabama-bred accent, he can proceed to discuss any number of human injustices, but what you hear is his hopeful predisposition, as opposed to an end-of-the-world rant.
In July 2006, Southern Methodist University began organizing its Human Rights Education Program. Perhaps redefining some people’s perceptions of this private, Dallas university, it is one of only 14 such programs in the U.S.
Before the program came to be, Halperin, a history professor at SMU since 1985 and Amnesty International USA board member, would yearly visit Holocaust sites in Poland. As he explains, “Every December, I would take a group of anybody who was interested – faculty, staff, community - anybody.”
On the 2005 trip, one graduate student was particularly moved by her experience. It happened that she was the daughter of J. Lindsay Embrey, who in 2003 gave $7.5 million to SMU’s School of Engineering, after giving more than $6 million to the school and athletics program in years prior. “In February of ‘06, she [Lauren Embrey] and her sister [Gayle] approached me and said that they wanted to give money to create a human rights program at SMU. I was flabbergasted,” Halperin remarks.
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