Rick Halperin: Man With a Mission

September 30, 2008  

Rick Halperin sits in his cluttered office. Halperin was awarded the National Faculty Award in September 2008. (PHOTO BY SHELLEY SMITH / THE DAILY MUSTANG)

Rick Halperin sits in his cluttered office. Halperin was awarded the National Faculty Award in September 2008. (PHOTO BY SHELLEY SMITH / THE DAILY MUSTANG)

By Shelley Smith

His office is cluttered with towering stacks of old books, tattered posters and a slew of student artwork. This is not what a typical professor’s office looks like. Then again, Rick Halperin is not your typical professor.

Halperin, director of SMU’s Human Rights Education Program and a lecturer at SMU, was named the recipient of a teaching excellence award by a national education organization in early September.

The National Faculty Award, given by the National Association of Graduate Liberal Studies Programs, recognizes an outstanding faculty member who not only exemplifies the qualities of interdisciplinary and liberal learning, but who also participates in the teaching, advising and mentoring of students and serves in a graduate liberal studies program.

Halperin is no newcomer to recognition at SMU, receiving the Outstanding Teacher Award in 1989 and 2001. He also received the “M” Mustang Award, SMU’s top award for outstanding contributions to the university, in 1994 and 1995, among other titles.

Halperin, however, is not one to count his trophies. He said he’s always jolted when someone recognizes his work.

“I don’t think of myself as anything but a human rights advocator and an activist for a better society,” Halperin said.

Growing up in the onset of the civil rights movement in rural Alabama, Halperin said the rage, anger and suffering he witnessed at an early age made a lasting impression on him.

“I knew then you can either choose to be a part of the problem, or you can work against it,” he said.

When he was 18 years old, Halperin witnessed the martyrdom of a Czech student protesting his country’s corrupt government practices. He said that event spurred him at age 20 to join Amnesty International.

He served as chair of the Board of Directors of Amnesty International USA from 1992-1993 and then again from 2005-2007.

Aside from teaching, Halperin is a human rights advocate working on many projects including abolishing the death penalty, increasing awareness to stop violence against women and promoting tolerance to put an end to hate crimes.

Halperin said he also focuses his attention on spreading his message on how one person can and should be an agent of change in this world.

Students are constantly reminded of his favorite saying: “The only failure is to do nothing.”

Junior Dominique Ouellette took Halperin’s course “America’s Dilemma: The Struggle for Human Rights,” this past summer and said his teachings made her realize horrors like the Holocaust still go on in other countries today.

Ouellette said she is now more cognizant of her own rights and wants to be someone who makes a difference.

“Rick Halperin is the type of professor that teaches you something and makes you want to do something about it,” she said. “He’s one of the best professors I have ever had.”

Pat Davis, director of Pastoral Leadership of Perkins School of Theology and fellow Humans Rights board member, said Halperin changed her life.

“I call him a teacher’s teacher,” Davis said.

She said Halperin made her realize she could not afford to be unaware of what is going on in the world and just sit back and watch it self-destruct.

Davis joined Halperin on a human rights trip he led to the Nazi death camps in Poland in the fall of 2005. Upon coming back, Davis quit her job as a lawyer, sold her house and her BMW and returned to teaching.

She said she felt as if she was following one of Halperin’s impassioned ideals which states “You have one life to live to leave as much of a positive mark on the world as you can.”

Junior Kristin Evanto said she hopes to attend the spring break trip to Europe this year. She said she believes all people should be educated in human rights and thinks the “America’s Dilemma” class should be a required course for the entire student body.

Halperin said that’s a step in the right direction and that his top school-related priority is working with the Board to recognize the Human Rights Education Program as a major. Currently, only a minor exists. Since the birth of the program last year, seven students have graduated with the minor and 70 studnets are currently working towards it.

Junior Erika Briceno is one of those 70.

“He made me care,” she said. “He made everyone care. I don’t know how he does it.”

Halperin said he firmly believes deep within everyone’s heart is something they’d like to see their country, and their world, do better.

“It’s a matter of exploring one’s heart and conscience and committing oneself to work for whatever that feeling is,” he said.

Halperin said the struggle isn’t over but embarking on the path to peace is simple by becoming aware and making a change.

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One Response to “Rick Halperin: Man With a Mission”

  1. Annette Bryant on May 19th, 2011 5:18 pm

    Can I please get the e-mail address for Dr. Rich Halperin regarding the stay for Mark Anthony Stroman.

    Thank you,
    Annette Bryant
    Retired Texas Attorney General’s Office: Dept. of Victims of Violent Crimes