About HRHA

In the Forsythe Family Program on Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, we foster students' curiosity about human rights and their passion for justice by offering challenging courses with inspiring professors, by encouraging our students to engage in hands-on human rights work, and by engaging in cutting-edge, interdisciplinary human rights research. Our faculty and students hail from a range of disciplines, from journalism to economics, political science to public health, bringing with them the diverse perspectives and collaborative spirit needed to tackle the world's most pressing problems.

Through our undergraduate minor and graduate specialization, students will be challenged to understand the roots of today's most difficult human rights issues and given the critical thinking skills and inspiration to go out and solve them.


In keeping with the University of Nebraska's commitment to interdisciplinarity and internationalization in teaching, research, and service, the primary mission of the Forsythe Family Program on Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs is to examine issues related to human rights from an international and interdisciplinary perspective in the classroom and within our research projects, as well as to bring these discussions to the wider community.

Advocacy statements

Message on June 1, 2020

As scholars and students of human rights, we are heartbroken and angry about the killing of George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, and Eric Garner, and Michael Brown, and Sandra Bland and Philando Castile and so many others black Americans who have died senseless deaths as a result of the color of their skin. We mourn the death of Ahmaud Arbery and other black Americans whose lives as friends, parents, children, sisters and brothers were cut needlessly short because of the pervasiveness of racism. We stand with our community members of color who are disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. To our students, faculty, friends and supporters who face systemic racism, we stand with you and bear witness to the injustices committed against you.

Our program pledges to be inclusive in the way we teach, research and engage in outreach. This means that we will listen, we will interrogate our own hearts, we will ask questions and have tough conversations, and we will lead by example. We will stand with you today and everyday.

Program history

In 1997 the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln created a new interdisciplinary area of excellence: Human Rights and Human Diversity. Dr. David Forsythe, University Professor and Charles J. Mach Distinguished Professor of Political Science, served as the founding director. From 1997 to 2002, the program was supported by a Ford Foundation grant, during which time the program increased its presence at the university and earned a national reputation for being a center of human rights teaching and research.

Since its founding in 1997, the human rights program has benefited from the leadership of Robert Hitchcock (Anthropology), Brian Lepard (College of Law), Jay Johnson (Geography), Jeff Spinner-Halev (Political Science) and Ari Kohen (Political Science). The interdisciplinary nature of the program's leadership over the years reflects the broad and diverse University of Nebraska community involved in human rights teaching and research.

During its twenty-year history, Nebraska's human rights program has grown our dynamic, hands-on undergraduate minor to reach over 100 students, created a graduate student certificate, and produced cutting-edge research. Faculty in the human rights program have collaborated and continue to work together on research projects around topics such as transitional justice in post-conflict societies, human security, human rights and water security, and Holocaust and genocide studies. As of the fall of 2019, our faculty have published 25 academic books and 238 peer-reviewed journal articles on human rights-related topics.

The program was renamed in 2010 to honor the career of David Forsythe and in recognition of the generous financial contribution made by the Forsythe family to the University of Nebraska. Dr. Forsythe's goal, for UNL to be counted among the leading universities in the study of human rights and humanitarian affairs, informs the teaching and research goals of the program today, just as his scholarship and teaching on international human rights and humanitarian law led to its creation and development.

Directory   Letter from the Director   News and events   David Forsythe   Student funding   Contact us

Advisory board


Courtney Hillebrecht
Department of Political Science


Wayne Babchuk, College of Education and Human Sciences

Bedross Der MatossianDepartment of History;  Judaic Studies

Emira IbrahimpasicSchool of Global Integrative Studies

Brian Lepard, College of Law 

Julia Reilly, Forsythe Family Program on Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs and Global Studies

Julie TippensDepartment of Child, Youth and Family Studies

Hana WaisserovaDepartment of Modern Languages and Literatures and Czech Studies