DAYTON (Agencies)– The University of Dayton will join a small group of U.S. universities that offer degrees in human rights studies when it begins offering an undergraduate degree in the subject next fall.
The private, Catholic university announced the degree program Friday. The school said it is designed to prepare students for careers in human rights advocacy and humanitarian assistance with groups like Amnesty International and the Red Cross, as well as for law school or other advanced study.
While a few U.S. universities offer advanced degrees in human rights areas and separate human rights courses, Amnesty International knows of none that offers a bachelor-level degree.
Theodore Orlin, president of the International Human Rights Education Consortium, a group of about 80 colleges, universities, non-governmental organizations and individuals, called the bachelor’s degree to be offered by Dayton an important development in the field.
"There is a realization that human rights needs to be offered at every level of education," he said.
Columbia University offers a masters degree in human rights. Notre Dame University offers masters and doctorates in international human rights law. The University of Chicago, American University, the University of Iowa and University of California-Berkeley have human rights programs or centers and offer numerous courses in human rights studies.
Karen Robinson, director of human rights education for Amnesty International USA, said she hopes that formalizing the study of human rights with a bachelor’s degree program results in a deeper understanding of what human rights are.
"Hopefully, students flock to take this degree, and other universities recognize that this is something they can do," Robinson said.
Tanya Domi, who has masters in human rights studies from Columbia and is the school’s senior public affairs officer for international affairs, believes that wars and hotspots around the world are fueling student interest in human rights,
"These students are really attuned to the temperature of the globe, and they’re very engaged," she said.
Domi said there are jobs not only with humanitarian groups, but also with state commissions on human rights and corporations with overseas operations that strive to be socially responsible.
The University of Dayton launched its undergraduate human rights program in 1998. It included an international studies degree with a concentration in human rights and a minor in human rights.
Last year, 89 percent of the students studying in the school’s human rights program said they would be likely to pursue the new degree if it was offered.
"Human rights have become the language in the political and international community for talking about social justice and morality," said Christopher Duncan, chair of Dayton’s political science department. "Students interested in social justice and issues of peace and peacemaking have gravitated toward human rights."
As part of the degree, students will be required to demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language, complete an internship and take a course in research methodology.
Other classes will include such offerings as philosophy and human rights; politics of human rights; international law and organization; faith and justice; rhetoric of social movements; and sociology and human rights.
Beth Lownik, who graduated from Dayton last spring with a minor in human rights, landed a job as a clinic administrator and public health coordinator of a new hospital that will open next month in rural Haiti. She said the study of human rights has provided her with a deeper understanding of the relationship between poverty and poor health.
"I see the external forces that rob people of their rights and autonomy and – far too often – their lives, which is a lot different than seeing a lot of inactive, poor people who are sick and need some medicine," she said