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Wilfrid Laurier University Development
October 23, 2017
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Laurier’s Canada Research Chair in International Human Rights receives distinguished scholar award

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Oct 13/06

Dr. Rhoda Howard-Hassmann’s research, teaching, and focus on mentoring – not to mention her status as ‘one of the greats’ in the field of human rights – led to her selection as the first recipient of the American Political Science Association (APSA)’s Distinguished Scholar of Human Rights award. 

“It means a lot to me to receive the respect and recognition of my colleagues,” said Howard-Hassmann, Laurier’s Canada Research Chair in International Human Rights.

The award was created by Mark Gibney, president of the human rights section of the APSA, to recognize someone who has worked in the field of human rights and made an exceptional contribution through research, teaching and mentorship.

This new award allows us to honour the giants in the field,” explained Gibney. “Dr. Howard-Hassmann was a perfect candidate.”

Gibney attributes Howard-Hassmann’s significant contribution to the field of human rights to both her “volumes and volumes of top-notch and wide-ranging scholarship,” and her focus on mentoring students. Indeed, when describing her work, Howard-Hassmann emphasizes the importance of “mentoring as much as you can.”

After starting her career in 1976, Howard-Hassmann became one of the early pioneers of inter-disciplinary work in the human rights field. “The study of human rights was in the realm of law and philosophy,” explained Howard-Hassmann. “It didn’t exist in social science.” Howard-Hassmann added a political science and sociology focus to its study, and went on to initiate and direct what may have been the first undergraduate non-law human rights program in the world: McMaster’s undergraduate minor Theme School on International Justice and Human Rights (1993-1999). She has since consulted on numerous other programs.

That Howard-Hassmann made such a significant impact early in her career was no small feat. “It didn’t come easy for her at that time,” explained Gibney. “Her early experiences fueled what is now a deep passion for mentoring students, and in particular fighting for women in the field.”  

As a testament to both her teaching and mentoring skills, it was one of her former students, Susan Dicklitch (now an associate professor of government at Franklin and Marshall College), who nominated Howard-Hassmann for the award.

“Dr. Howard-Hassmann served as a role model – especially for getting women into political science and human rights. I was inspired to go on to do my Ph.D. because of her teaching abilities,” explained Dicklitch. “She has also conducted spectacular and ground-breaking research on human rights in Africa and human rights in general – she’s very deserving of this award.”

The author of numerous books, articles and chapters on a wide range of human rights topics, Howard-Hassmann’s scholarly contribution to the human rights field is extensive. Her work spans human rights and development in Africa, women's rights, gay and lesbian rights, economic rights, Canadian foreign and refugee policy, as well as theoretical, methodological and sociological issues in international and Canadian human rights.  

Howard-Hassmann's current work includes her major research project, entitled "Reparations for Africa." She is also co-editor of The Age of Apology: The West Confronts its Past (forthcoming), and tracks political apologies through her website:, established through a grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

In addition to her teaching and research, Howard-Hassmann is a member of the editorial boards of eight human rights journals. She has served as a visiting scholar and professor at institutes around the world, and has been invited to deliver lectures at distinguished schools in North America and abroad.

This is Howard-Hassmann’s second recognition from the APSA. In 2004, its Human Rights Section named her book, Compassionate Canadians: Civic Leaders Discuss Human Rights (2003), the 2004 Outstanding Book in Human Rights.

Howard-Hassmann is Canada Research Chair in International Human Rights at Laurier, a professor in Laurier’s global studies program and department of political science, as well as professor emerita (sociology) at McMaster University. She holds a Ph.D. in sociology from McGill University (1976), and is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (1993).  

The American Political Science Association, founded in 1903, is the leading professional organization for the study of political science and serves more than 15,000 members in over 80 countries. The section on human rights was established to encourage scholarship and facilitate exchange of data and research findings on all components of human rights.

Lori Chalmers Morrison
Public Affairs


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