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5 Human Rights Majors Offered by Top Universities

Not so long ago, it was fairly unusual to find human rights studies at universities. People working in human rights came from a variety of educational backgrounds, like law, history, philosophy, or economics. However, human rights weren’t often discussed or brought into other types of workplaces, at least intentionally. Things are much different now. More and more people are interested in working in human rights or bringing a human-rights approach into their field. Many universities now offer interdisciplinary human rights programs that give students a strong foundation to build on. While a specific major may not be required to work in human rights or social justice spaces, human rights programs open up more opportunities. Here are five examples of the majors offered by top universities:

Barnard College (all women’s college)

New York City, New York

The human rights program at Barnard College provides basic skills and insights for students interested in human rights activism. As an interdisciplinary program, it’s studied alongside a major with a disciplinary or area studies focus, such as American Studies, Anthropology, History, Political Science, Women’s Studies, Religion, and so on. This gives students a joint major. The Barnard program works closely with the Human Rights Program at Columbia College.

During the program, students learn about the four fields of intellectual inquiry in human rights studies: the laws, institutions, and principles of social justice; the data on human rights; the analysis of human rights; and the response or remedial strategies. To complete the program, students must complete one introductory course, two Core courses, three related courses, and a senior thesis.

Trinity College

Hartford, CT

This program was the first human rights program at a United States liberal arts college. Both a major and minor are available. Like most programs of this kind, the college takes an interdisciplinary approach. Students will take courses in departments such as Philosophy, History, American Studies, Anthropology, and Economics. With such a variety of course selections, it’s easy for students to tailor their major in an area of their interest.

To major in human rights, a student will take 10 courses (three Core courses and seven electives) and complete a senior project. Courses change frequently, but some examples include classes on post-colonial women’s writing, human rights advocacy, global radicalism, and abolition history. Internships and study away opportunities are also available.

Columbia College

New York City, New York

The Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia College hosts the undergrad human rights program. Students will strengthen their knowledge, skills, and commitment to human rights both in and outside the classroom. Academic and extracurricular activities, special resources, and other opportunities are available for undergrad human rights students.

To obtain the major in human rights, students complete 10 courses with a seminar as one of the distributional or specialization courses. For the distributional requirement, students need to take one course in three of four categories, such as politics and history, social and economic processes, and political theory and philosophy. For the specialization requirement, students take four courses within one department or institute. Departmental honors are also available for students that meet certain requirements.

Malmö University

Malmö, Sweden

This 3-year bachelor’s program takes a multi-disciplinary approach. Students will learn about human rights through the perspectives of law, politics, and philosophy. This covers human rights from the ground up: what role do human rights have in international law? How do governments and communities address human rights? Why do human rights matter? With this program, students are equipped to work in many sectors of the human rights field, the business world, and/or to study further at a master’s or doctorate level.

The syllabus can change year to year, but to give you an idea of what to expect, the Autumn 2022 coursework includes introductions to human rights; the environment and human rights; global justice; children’s rights, and so on.

Carleton University

Ottawa, Canada

The Human Rights and Social Justice B.A. at Carleton University provides students with an overview of historical and modern human rights issues, as well as how they impact humanity within different cultural contexts. Students will critically examine and assess human rights instruments used to address issues, as well as social movements, challenges, and the future of human rights. The program relies on five frameworks: Critical Principles; Human Rights Laws and Institutions; Political Repression: Marginalized Groups; and Social Justice.

To earn the standard B.A. in Human Rights and Social Justice, students will need to complete 15 credits. As an interdisciplinary program, you’ll take classes in departments like Political Science, Philosophy, and Law. The program is also available as an Honors and Combined Honors program.

About the author

Emmaline Soken-Huberty

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.