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Human Rights Initiatives, Research and Faculty Recognitions

The University of Dayton — a Catholic, Marianist research university — started the country's first undergraduate human rights program in 1998 and offered one of the nation's first bachelor's degrees in human rights studies in 2008. Founded in 2013, the Human Rights Center expands the University's mission to integrate theoretical and practical approaches to learning and engage others working toward the common good — locally and globally.

The University of Dayton human rights studies program and Human Rights Center have organized local, national and international conferences and developed partnerships to perform research and advocate for the rights of the vulnerable and exploited — children, women, migrants, refugees and trafficked persons.

  • In 2008, the human rights studies program and the Center for Victims of Torture organized an event to advocate for a presidential executive order on prisoner treatment, torture and cruelty. University of Dayton President Daniel J. Curran signed a declaration supporting the executive order, which President Obama signed in 2009.
  • Since 2013, the Social Practice of Human Rights conference has convened biennially, attracting an average of more than 100 experts from 15 countries who include current and former representatives from the United Nations, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the United States Human Rights Network, Amnesty International USA, Human Rights Watch, Global Fund for Women, Doctors Without Borders, Ford Foundation, World Peace Foundation, USAID, and the NAACP, among others. The 2019 conference is set for Oct. 8-11, 2019.
  • At the request of local and state law enforcement agencies and social service organizations, the human rights studies program took a leadership role in the creation of a regional anti-trafficking coalition — Abolition Ohio — currently supported by the Human Rights Center, under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Campaign to Rescue and Restore Victims of Human Trafficking.
  • Human rights studies faculty and students were instrumental in advocating for enactment of Ohio Senate Bill 235, which made human trafficking a criminal offense in Ohio. Abolition Ohio also worked with Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s Human Trafficking Commission to provide Ohio schools, youth counselors, after-school programs and anti-human trafficking organizations with a free online manual for developing anti-human trafficking education for children.
  • The Center sponsors an applied research practicum in Malawi to train undergraduate students as future human rights advocates and professionals. Working closely with Determined to Develop, a grassroots NGO founded and directed by the alumnus Matt Maroon '06, students spend nine weeks living and conducting research with local community leaders in northern Malawi on a critical human rights or development issue.
  • The Human Rights Center partnered with PROOF: Media for Social Justice, an organization specializing in visual storytelling for human rights and peacebuilding, on Ferguson Voices, an oral history project capturing stories of people who participated in and were affected by the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri, after the killing of Michael Brown. The goal was to document people who, despite adversity and risk, "chose to activate their moral courage," according to Joel Pruce, assistant professor of human rights studies who oversaw the project for the University of Dayton Human Rights Center. Pruce also led a similar group to El Paso, Texas, this spring to examine immigration issues at the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • In 2016, the University received a fair trade university designation from national grassroots movement Fair Trade Campaigns. Fair Trade Campaigns recognizes towns, colleges, universities, schools and congregations nationwide for embedding fair trade practices and principles into policy. "Fair trade" refers to an economic system of equitable trading partnerships for farmers, artisans and workers. It is evidence to consumers that products they purchase were grown, harvested, crafted and traded in ways that improve lives and protect the environment. 
  • In 2000, the University established the Romero Human Rights award, which commemorates the ministry and martyrdom of the slain Salvadoran Archbishop and honors an individual or organization whose work has contributed significantly to the alleviation of human suffering and injustice. Award recipients include:
  • * Juan Mendez, for his work with Human Rights Watch and the Inter-American Institute for Human Rights
  • * Casa Alianza, the Central American affiliate of Covenant House, for its defense of street children
  • * Radhika Coomaraswamy, for her work as UN special rapporteur on violence against women
  • * Juan Guzman, for his courageous prosecution of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet
  • * Bernard Kuchner, for his humanitarian work with Doctors without Borders
  • * The department of Migration and Refugee Services of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, for its work with migrants, refugees and trafficked persons
  • * Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, for his work with Caritas Internationalis
  • * The Pastoral Land Commission of the Brazilian National Bishops’ Conference, for decades of solidarity with the poor, the landless and those subjected to forced labor.


News and Communications Staff