Major in Human Rights

Our interdisciplinary program in human rights is committed to the integration of human rights theory and practice. Our student’s academic development is honed by exposure to diverse, cutting-edge research in the classroom and broadened through experiential learning opportunities in the community. Our joint focus on academic study and practical applications of human rights produces competitive scholars with advanced critical-thinking and problem-solving skills that are an invaluable asset to future endeavors.

Our major must be pursued as a second program of study, so students are required to select a primary major in a different discipline. To declare human rights as your double major within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, please fill out the double major declaration form (PDF).

Major Requirements

36 credit hours are required for a human rights major. Please review our course offerings to select courses based on the following requirements:

  • 9 credits of core courses must be taken. Students must take one course from each division:
    1. Institutions and Laws
    2. History, Philosophy, and Theory
    3. Applications and Methods
  • 12 credits must be taken from our list of elective courses. You may take additional core courses to fulfill the elective requirement.
  • 12 credit hours of related courses must be completed, as approved by the director of undergraduate programs. The HRTS list of related courses may contain human rights relevant courses from the primary major's core and elective course lists.
  • All students must complete an approved W course.
  • 3 credits must be taken to fulfill the capstone requirement. You may complete a senior thesis seminar or a service learning/internship experience. Read below for details.

Looking for a snapshot of our requirements and course offerings by catalog year? Visit our Undergraduate page to download and print a PDF.

Capstone Thesis

Completing a senior thesis provides students with first-hand experience developing and executing a cutting-edge research project with the oversight of a research mentor. Preparing a senior thesis will:

  • Deepen knowledge and understanding of contemporary challenges to the protection and realization of human rights
  • Reveal the unique challenges in conducting human rights research
  • Develop strong professional relationships with faculty members
  • Learn how to execute a multi-phase research project
  • Prepare for graduate-level coursework and training


Students are expected to produce a research paper of publishable quality. The research project should center on a human rights issue and be supervised by a faculty member with experience in the field of human rights. While your supervisor does not need to be an official affiliate of the Human Rights Institute, our faculty listing is a good place to start.

The expectations for your project should be determined by your research supervisor based on the discipline in which you have trained. Please work together to determine the following items in advance of the project’s beginning:

  • Length of the thesis
  • Mode of analysis
  • Timeline for progress each semester and completion
  • Assessment of the students’ progress

Process & Timeline

Students interested in writing a senior thesis for human rights should begin to prepare for this process no later than the spring semester of their junior year.

Junior Year

  • Brainstorm potential thesis ideas by coming up with a list of potential research topics or questions and meet with professors and advisors to get feedback on those ideas.
  • Create a one-page Statement of Problem:
    • What is your research topic/question?
    • How does this question relate to other research done on this topic?
    • What is the significance of this question? Why is it important?
  • Create a short annotated bibliography with at least 5 texts that you think will help shape your project. Construct a short paragraph for each text that summarizes the topic of the text and its major findings, and how you think it will be used in your project.
  • Cultivate professional relationships with potential thesis supervisors by:
    • Researching faculty members who have experience in your research area
    • Contacting potential thesis supervisors to introduce yourself and your project. Be sure to have your resume, Statement of Problem, and a writing sample prepared.
  • Secure a faculty supervisor and thesis topic by the end of your junior year
  • Submit our senior thesis declaration form to Elizabeth Holzer and Alyssa Webb via email by the end of the spring semester before senior year. We will review your proposed project to ensure it meets university requirements, and then follow up with you directly to add the independent study and senior thesis courses to your faculty advisor’s schedule.

Senior Year

  • Enroll in HRTS 3299: Independent Study for the fall semester
  • Enroll in HRTS 4996W: Senior Thesis for the spring semester
  • At the end of each semester, the student should submit a 1-2 page progress report to the Human Rights Institute that details how the project is progressing.
  • Upon completion, please submit your thesis to the Human Rights Institute for our records.

Capstone Internship

Experiential learning opportunities are the cornerstone of our academic program. Internships prepare students to be competitive in their chosen fields, positively contribute to the evolving culture of human rights, and expose students to:

  • Diverse applications of rights discourse
  • Varied perspectives on the function and utility of the human rights enterprise
  • Realities of pursuing a career in the human rights field

Visit our Internships page to learn more about requirements and how to find an internship.


Why do I need a major in another field? Can I just have a minor or two minors in other fields?
No. The second major requirement is designed to ensure that the broad, interdisciplinary education you receive as a human rights major is supplemented by deep knowledge in a traditional discipline.

Can my second major be anything I want?
Yes! Any CLAS major can be combined with human rights (HRTS) for a double major. Majors in schools other than CLAS can be combined with HRTS as an additional degree.

Do I have to take HRTS 1007 which is listed as a recommended course?
HRTS 1007 is recommended, but not required, as preparation for the higher-level HRTS courses.

Do all of my human rights minor courses count toward the major?
Yes, but the minor's core course list has two divisions, while the major has three, so some students may need to take another core course when switching to the major.

What happens if I don't complete my other major, but have enough credits to graduate?
You must complete a primary major in another discipline to graduate with a degree in human rights, regardless of how many credits you have completed.

What happens if I don't complete my human rights major, but have enough credits to graduate?
If you do not complete the requirements for the human rights major, but have completed the requirements for your primary major and have enough credits to graduate, then you will be able to graduate, but without the human rights major. There is also the possibility of having enough credits to graduate with a HRTS minor.