Dr. Rick Halperin

As a human rights leader, activist and educator, Rick Halperin, director of SMU’s Human Rights Program, has devoted his life to a single theme – there is no such thing as a lesser person. His work has impacted thousands of SMU undergraduate and graduate students. An international leader, Halperin has supported organizations seeking human rights improvements for women, children, LGBTQ persons, those facing religious persecution, indigenous persons, political prisoners, human rights defenders and journalists. He also leads the movement to abolish the death penalty.

Halperin joined the SMU history faculty in 1985, teaching his first human rights class in 1990. Under his leadership, SMU added a human rights minor in 2007 and a graduate emphasis in human rights through SMU’s Master of Liberal Studies program. When the human rights major was added in 2012, SMU became one of only five universities nationwide to offer the degree program. Since that time more than 650 students have graduated with or are pursuing human rights majors and minors. 

Convinced that location can be a powerful teacher, Halperin also leads students, faculty and community members on regular human rights educational journeys. To date more than 600 participants have traveled with Human Rights faculty and staff to 28 countries, including an annual trip in late December to Holocaust sites in Poland. These trips are designed to pay tribute, in part, to those men, women and children who died in the death camps, as well as to honor those who survived the experience. Marking the 20th anniversary of the trip, Halperin and co-author Denise Gee published in 2017 a large format book of photos and recollections from the trips titled, No Resting Place: Holocaust Poland.

In addition to his work at SMU, Halperin has held numerous leadership positions in human rights and social justice organizations. During his more than 50-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 master’s degree in U.S. history from SMU and a bachelor of arts in U.S. history from George Washington University.