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 human rights studies program and Human Rights Center have organized local, national and international conferences focusing on 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. Then-University of Dayton President Daniel J. Curran signed a declaration appealing for that executive order, which President Obama signed in 2009. Since 2013, the Social Practice of Human Rights conference has convened biennially.

* The 2013 conference featured current and former representatives from the United Nations, Amnesty International USA, Human Rights Watch, WITNESS, Doctors Without Borders and World Peace Foundation. Attendees from 15 nations.

* In 2015, representatives of leading human rights organizations, philanthropic foundations and universities, including the Center for Law, Justice and Society (Dejusticia), the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, the Global Fund for Women, the International Rights Funders Group, U.S. Human Rights Network, USAID, the Center for Economic and Social Rights, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Disability Rights Fund, the Wikimedia Foundation and the NAACP, among others, gathered to discuss the United Nations' 17 new sustainable development goals.

* In 2017, the conference featured an international cast  of nearly 100 experts in civil rights, race, immigration and human rights from 15 countries, including representatives of the National Immigration Law Center, International Catholic Migration Commission, Hope Border Institute, U.S. Institute of Peace, Carr Center for Human Rights Policy and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Emmy Award-winning musician, author and philanthropist Peter Buffett performed to benefit the University of Dayton human rights studies program in November 2013.

In 2012, the College of Arts and Sciences received a $100,000 gift from Peter McGrath, a University alumnus, to stimulate and sustain human rights research.

Also in 2012, the human rights studies program entered into a partnership with Catholic Relief Services under the auspices of the Scholars in Global Solidarity initiative. CRS invited the University to participate in recognition of the human rights studies program's achievements in the areas of human rights education and research.

Since 2013, the Human Rights Center has worked with Catholic Relief Services, the Pastoral Land Commission of the Brazilian National Bishops Conference and non-governmental organization Repórter Brasi to research forced labor in the supply chains of goods that end up in American homes.

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. Read the resolution here.

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 — 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 the advocacy effort that led to the enactment of Ohio Senate Bill 235, which made human trafficking a criminal offense in Ohio. Abolition Ohio also is working 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.

With the Department of Political Science, the Center sponsors an applied research practicum in Malawi to train undergraduate students. Working closely with Determined to Develop, a Karonga-based NGO founded and directed by the University of Dayton alumnus Matt Maroon ’06, students spend eight weeks living and conducting research with local community and NGO leaders in northern Malawi. Each student designs and conducts a research project on a critical human rights or development issue that will provide the community and leaders with much needed analytics and affords the students invaluable experiences and opportunities to learn from the Malawians.

Natalie Hudson, director of the human rights studies program, and Alexandra Budabin, a senior researcher in the program, are researching challenges faced by transnational advocacy on addressing sexual- and gender-based violence in conflict. Despite increased international awareness, attention and resources focused on sexual- and gender-based violence in conflict, particularly rape, instances of violence against women in war-torn regions continues to exist. This projects aims to better understand the narratives and power dynamics within transnational advocacy to improve advocacy strategies and international responses to this 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.

The University honors an individual or organization whose work has contributed substantially to the promotion of the dignity of the human person and the alleviation of the suffering of the human family with the internationally acclaimed Archbishop Oscar Romero Human Rights Award. 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