Faculty Approve Human Rights Certificate for Undergraduate Education

HRC Faculty Advisory Board

The Faculty Advisory Board of the Duke Human Rights Center

Building on Duke’s interdisciplinary strengths and with growing student interest in human rights, the Arts and Sciences Council approved last week a new six-course undergraduate certificate in human rights.

The certificate will be centered in the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Center (DHRC@FHI). The certificate proposal came out of work from the center’s 26-member Faculty Advisory Board and a year-long Rights Connect series in which human rights scholars visited the center and spoke of their experiences in human rights education.

Students will use the certificate to develop “a deep familiarity with the concept of human rights, an understanding of the critique and practical experience to connecting, ideas to real world problems, including in North Carolina,” said Robin Kirk, co-director of the (DHRC@FHI), who will lead the certificate program for the first three years.

The certificate will be anchored at the front and end with a gateway course and a capstone research project.  In between those two, students will take four electives. The electives are a showcase of how human rights scholarship is part of a broad range of fields at Duke, with courses currently being offered by faculty in the arts and humanities, social sciences, public policy, religion, health and education.

The courses will explore both human rights theory and its practice in real-life cases at the international level and locally. DHRC’s Pauli Murray Project is developing new projects for Durham-based undergraduate human rights research. 

Kirk said the scholarship will point to the many places where theory and practice appear to be at odds. Even as “human rights philosophy and protection has reshaped our world,” there are new and thorny challenges -- from the failure of asylum law to protect refugees to the growing support for torture -- that requires scholarly engagement.

“This lies at the heart of our certificate proposal,” said the proposal. “We seek to immerse students in the study of human rights from a legal, critical and deeply historical perspective; engage them with its substantive contradictions; and require them to do the hard work of puzzling out how human rights can be used to create a better (if not perfect) world.”

Another impetus for the certificate is the growing student interest in the topic, said Professor Robert Korstad, who spoke before the Arts and Sciences Council in October. A significant number of Program II students are already constructing their personalized plans of study around human rights questions.

“I think that a really rigorous Human Rights Certificate will continue to help us attract more serious students to Duke,” Korstad told the council. “If you look at the number of students who are saying they’re coming for things like DukeEngage, Duke Immerse, the Focus Program … these collaborative learning experiences that put together things from around the university. I think the certificate program will do a good job and become a smaller part of the signature that Duke is developing.” 

The proposal outlined five pathways to the certificate, several involving other Duke signature programs such as Duke Engage and Duke Immerse as venues for undergraduate research and engagement.

Kirk also noted DHRC’s long-standing connections to both the Center for Documentary Studies and the Human Rights Archive at the Rubenstein Library as presenting undergraduate research possibilities.

The certificate was crafted with the support of the Kenan Institute faculty, which has an experiential certificate in ethics with a human rights track.

Kenan and DHRC will collaborative promote both certificates, guiding students who want a course-based program to the DHRC’s human rights program and those who want a more experiential learning program to Kenan’s ethics certificate.