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Our interdisciplinary endeavor to promote scholarship on human rights started in September 2004 as the International Perspectives on Human Rights initiative. It was founded as an across-campus initiative organized by the Advanced Study Center (later named Program in International and Comparative Studies), the International Institute, and the Institute for the Humanities. This initiative brought together the resources of the university to promote reflection, debate, scholarship, and teaching in the vast emerging field of human rights. The mission was to address human rights globally and comparatively, to forge connections between existing research projects, to promote dialogue between scholars and human rights practitioners, and to encourage curricular development. Also introduced at this time was the Human Rights Fellowship, a core component of the initiative to promote undergraduate human rights education through the development of new course offerings in the field of human rights with significant international content.

As campus interest in human rights grew, the initiative expanded and in 2012 was renamed the Human Rights Initiative. Its main mission stayed the same, and the Initiative continued to serve as a forum for scholars and public intellectuals from all over the world to discuss and debate human rights issues of our time.

Thanks to the generous support from the Donia Human Rights Fund, the Human Rights Initiative was upgraded to the Human Rights Program in February 2016. Then, in October 2016, the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts announced the establishment of the Donia Human Rights Center (DHRC). The Donia Human Rights Center builds on the early successes of the Human Rights Initiative and Program and continues to grow its programming, research support, and student engagement with the hope of advancing its overall mission of promoting greater understanding of contemporary human rights issues among students, faculty, and the broader public.