Newswise — BINGHAMTON, NY – Binghamton University is offering a new graduate degree program, the Master of Science in Human Rights. The program is the first of its kind in the State University of New York (SUNY) system.

The Master of Science in Human Rights will prepare graduates to work in an array of human rights fields, from international advocacy to local community organizing, and will offer an accessible alternative to programs abroad or at private institutions.

Lubna Chaudhry, associate professor of human development at Binghamton University, said she was surprised by the lack of human rights programs in New York. After doing some research, she found that most human rights degree programs are found in Europe.

“We were really surprised to find out that there was no program on social justice and human rights in the entire SUNY system,” said Chaudhry. “There are programs that kind of say that they do these things, but there isn’t a program that is totally devoted to human rights. We are kind of unique in that way.”

Chaudhry added that Binghamton’s program is unique because it focuses more on helping people rather than law.

“What made our program stand out from all other programs on the East Coast, and even other parts of the country, in human rights is that it has a grassroots, community-based orientation,” Chaudhry said. “We want to work with people; people come first and then laws. Other human rights programs are preparing people who work for law. For us, human rights are something that needs to be ingrained in everything that we do.”

Suzy Lee, program director of the M.S. in Human Rights and associate professor of human development at Binghamton, said the program stemmed out of a growing emphasis on human rights at the University.

“A few years ago, momentum began to build for the Binghamton University campus to become a major center for human rights,” said Lee. “A number of human rights-oriented research and teaching initiatives were in development, including the Human Rights Institute. A graduate degree in human rights provided a necessary component of this innovative work initiative, and Lubna Chaudhry, in collaboration with our faculty, spearheaded the drive to create one.”

The program has been in development for three years and is currently admitting students on a rolling basis. It will offer professional training for interdisciplinary applied research and practice in human rights with a focus on community-level engagement. The degree requires nine courses consisting of classes in core human rights and community action, research methods, a practicum course and a capstone project. These studies are designed to help students understand the theoretical foundations of the international human rights regime, human rights-oriented research methods and community-based practice.

“The program will not offer specific concentrations, though we expect students to specialize in their own research based on their required course work, electives and field placements,” said Lee. “We offer two different tracks - “academic” or “applied” - for students who have specific career goals.”

Although the human rights program was just created, Binghamton faculty have always had an interest in the subject. Chaudhry said that their enthusiasm has helped Binghamton prepare for the program.

“[Binghamton] has such a strong social justice orientation. This is a great way to utilize the expertise of our faculty by offering the program,” said Chaudhry. “There are lots of people at Binghamton who are interested in human rights and who teach courses on human rights, so Binghamton is really ready to offer such a program.”

The program is expected to enroll 10 students for its first session, but Lee said she hopes the program to expand. “Within 10 years, we see this program graduating 30-40 students each year, and sending those students onto jobs in major human rights institutions, as organizers in local communities, as well as further their graduate studies in law or related fields,” said Lee. “You will be hearing about our students in the news for the exceptional human rights work they are doing in the world.”