A letter from SMU Human Rights students and alumni: #FundHRPNow
DISCLAIMER: SMU Human Rights staff and faculty did not participate in the organization of this open letter nor any related student action.
For the past 5 years, the Human Rights Program’s students have witnessed a reduction of the program’s staff, student support, extracurricular research and educational opportunities in ways that have limited the Program’s ability to maintain its core mission of educating the next generation of world changers. Despite a growth in student involvement, over the next several years cuts will continue to be made, jeopardizing many of the resources which make the program so impactful. We are tired and concerned. We are working with Dedman College on coordinated efforts, but we also believe in the power of community-driven action. Today, Human Rights students are calling for the community’s support to endow the Human Rights Program.
The SMU Human Rights Program is a powerful coalition of students, faculty, staff and community members that commit their personal and professional lives to demanding dignity in our daily lives. In the classroom, professors across disciplines affirm that Human Rights students bring a unique level of critical engagement and insight. However, we aren’t cloistered academics and idealists. Because of our interdisciplinary and hands-on approach, Human Rights students produce urgent, practical and world-changing work, bringing concrete value to campus and beyond:
● Our community is represented in every university scholars program, and our students have an incredible record of winning at the Hilltop Excellence Awards: In 2022, 7 out of 10 winners of the “M” Award, SMU’s highest honor, were Human Rights students.
● 80% of our students identify as female, and many of our students are queer, BIPOC, and/or working-class.
● Our students and staff have founded and/or advised more than 10 student organizations for building community and fostering positive change.
● Our students have studied in over 26 countries and Taos, and program scholarships have historically made this travel possible for students who could not do international research/activism otherwise.
● After graduation, HRP alumni have earned prestigious positions such as Yale Pickering Fellows, Marshall Scholars, Fulbright Scholars, at the Smithsonian, at the United Nations Institute for Training and Research, and as the first Asian-American Miss Texas, as well as other impactful roles in healthcare, law, entrepreneurship, education, and elsewhere.
As Human Rights students, we can only execute this innovative activism with our program’s education and holistic support. Our work is cutting-edge. Our impact is as undeniable as it is extensive. The University clearly recognizes this: Human Rights students, alumni and staff, and particularly images of visibly marginalized people, disproportionately feature in SMU advertising campaigns.
Advocating for the Human Rights Program places another layer of responsibility on some of SMU’s most vulnerable students. Most of us only attend SMU because we were drawn to and/or retained by the Human Rights Program’s robust staff mentorship, international research and community support. If we fail to guarantee the future of the program in its full form, the fiscal, intellectual and emotional loss to the university cannot be overstated.
Since its conception, the Human Rights Program has been sustained by external funding. The Human Rights Program staff has been reduced by half since 2019, from 6 full-time staff to 3, despite a 190% increase in students, and their jobs are disproportionately dedicated to fundraising for the program’s survival. Overworked and underpaid, these expertly trained scholars and activists must continually justify the existence of their own positions. Still, Human Rights faculty and staff make themselves meaningfully available to directly mentor and support the program’s students and they treat students with dignity we rarely encounter in other aspects of our lives. Multiple community members testify that the Human Rights Program performs transformative and life-saving work.
We are a vibrant, energetic community and deeply care to have a future at SMU. Our primary concern is ensuring the Human Rights Program exists in a robust capacity, receiving the funding it needs before it’s too late. Let’s take steps together to fund HRP and ensure the future of this vital program.
If you want to help us secure the SMU Human Rights Program’s future, take one or all of the following steps:
- Become a signatory on this open letter here to show your support for the program’s full future and join the list of community signatories.
- Share your SMU Human Rights testimony to #FundHRPNow on your personal social media or send to @FundHRPNow.
- Donate to the SMU Human Rights Program here.
SMU Human Rights Students