Academics - Master of Science in Human Rights

The goal of the program is to prepare graduates to work in an array of human rights fields ranging from international advocacy to local community organizing. The degree requires nine courses (36 credit hours) and can be completed in three semesters, though we provide alternative schedules for part-time students. The curriculum includes 16 credits in core human rights and community action coursework, two 4-credit-hour research methods courses, a 4-credit-hour practicum course and a 4-credit-hour capstone project.

Core curriculum requirements 

Human Rights Theory and Practice I (MSHR 500)

This course critically examines the validity and purchase of "humankind's most noble aspirations" for us today. It examines the historical and intellectual evolution of human rights, the different approaches and interpretations as well as their contemporary practice, uncovering the idea of human rights in its historical and intellectual contexts of emergence. The aim of this course is to provide a broad overview of the development of the idea of human rights before 1948, and to examine the ideas and theories contained in the Universal Declaration of 1948.

Human Rights Theory and Practice II (MSHR 501)

This course is a continuation of HR 500 and focuses on analyzing contemporary issues in human rights, such as modern slavery, human trafficking, socio-economic rights, the rights of children, gender-based violence, torture, immigration, refugee rights, indigenous people's rights and environmental rights. In addition, relevant documents, contemporary ethical conundrums and institutional frameworks pertaining to the various aspects of human rights practice will be discussed.

Theorizing Social Change From a Human Rights Perspective (MSHR 510)

This course has two principal objectives: (1) To understand and critique everyday assumptions about social change and human rights, and grasp their political implications; and (2) To engage in the practice of theorizing social change not merely as an academic endeavor but as an always-ongoing activity of making sense of and enabling action upon the present. To meet these objectives, we will read classical and contemporary theorizations of capitalism, modernity and socio-economic development, and connect them to human rights theory and practice (including the material discussed in HR 500 and HR 501). In addition, one section of the course will include readings tailored to students' needs for their capstone project. These texts and class discussions will help them develop a theoretical framework they will use for the research proposal developed in HR 504 (Integrative Community-Based Research I), which they will also take in their first semester. In this course, we will ask broad questions such as: How does the expansion of capitalism intersect with human rights? What are the possible connections between the expansion and possible shrinking of state bureaucracies and human rights?

This course feeds directly into the proposal for the capstone project, which students develop in the same semester because it is designed to help them with the theory section of the proposal. In addition, this course can be seen as providing a broader context for HR 500 and HR 501 (Human Rights Theory and Practice I and II, respectively), and the texts and assignments are coordinated with the instructors who teach these two classes on an ongoing basis to ensure a coherent learning experience for each cohort.

Community Organizing, Community Research and Human Rights (MSHR 512)

In this course, students deepen and learn to deploy the theoretical and practical knowledge acquired in prior semesters to support local communities. Students will become familiar with human rights-based approaches to community organizing. Students learn to understand perennial concerns of disenfranchised communities, including access to adequate healthcare, housing and food, as human rights issues. They learn how to use the language and logic of human rights to advocate for disenfranchised groups. Students acquire practical knowledge of the nuts and bolts of community organizing, including the identification of issues, research, fundraising, recruitment, alliance building, as well as campaign planning and strategy through readings, workshop-style exercises and guest speakers from local organizations. Finally, students are introduced to community organizing history, both in the U.S. and in other countries.

Research methods requirements

Integrative Community-Based Research I (MSHR 504)

The purpose of this course is to introduce students to research methods used to conduct applied human rights community research and program evaluation. A specific emphasis will be placed on core research principles and concepts within the context of quantitative and qualitative research methods. During the semester, students will have an opportunity to develop an understanding of the socio-historical and socio-political contexts of research, stimulate scholarly thought about research interests and begin the process of developing a professional identity as a scientist-practitioner. Students will explore a range of topics including epistemology, research and methods; theoretical models in research; ethics in research; quantitative and qualitative research design, measurement, sampling and analysis; and applied statistics.

Integrative Community-Based Research II (MSHR 505)

The purpose of this advanced course is to examine critical methodologies as a basis to employ a critical, analytic, interdisciplinary framework in applied community research and evaluation. A critical analytic framework in research — including theory, methodologies and praxis — incorporates a critique of macro- and micro-level inequalities based on the engagement of transformative discourses in the area of human rights. Emphasis will be placed on multi-level research, mixed-methods research and community-based participatory research approaches linking theory, method and praxis; and context, theoretical models, research design, data collection and analysis, and technologies in multi-, mixed- and community-based participatory research.

Practical experience

Community-Based Experience (MSHR 520)

The purpose of this course is to provide students with opportunities to engage in the integration and application of theory and practice through a community-based experience. Students will explore the pragmatic, nuts-and-bolts-type issues of the community-based experience to a more in-depth exploration with concerns such as hierarchical relationships in service-delivery contexts, the implications of human rights, and the long-term as well as everyday workings of community-based agencies and non-governmental organizations. Building on a critical approach to work in the field of human rights, a critical emphasis will be placed on how power relations structure organizations and communities within their broader socio-historical, -political, -economic and -cultural contexts. As such, students will examine the implications of social identities and positionality in relation to social locations such as race/ethnicity, gender, social class, sexuality, national origin and religion for experiences in the field as interns and eventually as human-rights practitioners. During this process, students will engage in critical analysis and thoughtful reflection in exploring and challenging their values, assumptions, perceptions and biases related to their work as practitioners in communities.

This course is designed to ensure accountability and feedback through the community-based experience at three levels: supervision/evaluation by site supervisor; coordination/consultation with the instructor; and co-reflection/discussion with fellow students.

Students must actively participate in a community-based experience at a local human service agency for 10 hours per week, for a semester total of 120 hours. The 10 hours should be allotted either in full-day and/or half-day increments so the student may maximize the richness of the experience. Students will begin the community-based experience by the first week in the semester, and continue at the same site through the end of the semester.

Community-based experience sites are community-based, non-governmental or governmental agencies that incorporate a focus on human rights and must be approved by the instructor. These sites can be located on local, regional, statewide or international levels. Appropriate field settings include a wide range of human rights systems such as child welfare, criminal justice, educational, family services, health, mental health, schools, shelters, etc. The program participants of a given field agency may be individuals, families, groups, organizations and/or communities.

Capstone Project Seminar (MSHR 599)

In this seminar, students finish the capstone project, the groundwork for which they completed in HR 504 and HR 505 Integrative Community-Based Research I and II; HR 520 Community-Based Experience; and HR 510 Theorizing Social Change. Students will select between two tracks: 1) traditional research thesis; and 2) applied project thesis. Under both tracks, the focus will shift from methods and data gathering to analysis and synthesis.

Students must have their capstone project proposals (which will be based on proposals written for HR 504/505 and HR 520) approved by faculty by the end of the second semester of studies. Students are expected to collect data on research or begin implementation in the summer before the taking HR 601.

  • Track 1: Students in the research thesis track will write a draft of the capstone project paper based on the data gathered in the second semester or the summer in the first month of the third semester. The subsequent two months of the semester will focus on revisions, informed by peer and instructor feedback. The product will be a paper of publishable quality. Students are required to submit this paper to a peer-reviewed journal in the last week of classes. Students will do a mock conference presentation to prepare students for academic and other conferences.
  • Track 2: Students in the applied track will submit a summer progress report at the beginning of the semester, and continue to submit regular progress reports as the semester progresses. During the seminar, students will receive feedback from community members, their colleagues and faculty in the human rights program, which will inform the evolution of the project and its implementation. Students are required to submit a final program evaluation at the end of the semester that assesses the achievements of the project with respect to its stated goals, and provides a reflection on the student's experience. Students will create a mock conference presentation to prepare to present their work in a professional setting.


Students are required to take a minimum of one elective in a related, specialized field, to be determined in collaboration with their graduate advisor.

Part-time study

A part-time track is also available. Contact for more information.