| Academics | Centers & Institutes | Center for the Study of Human Rights
Stand up for the rights and dignity of others.
At Worcester State University, the Dennis Brutus/Merrill Goldwyn Center for the Study of Human Rights is your source for awareness of human rights violations and other abuses that plague today’s world. We incorporate human rights issues into the WSU curriculum and provide resources for academic research.
We also sponsor the student chapter of Amnesty International and develop programs, lectures, symposia, and other activities. Many of our events are co-sponsored by campus partners like the Urban Action Institute, Center for Global Studies, and the Multicultural Affairs Office. The center also maintains the Dennis Brutus Collection in the WSU Library, which gives researchers access to numerous manuscripts, letters, books, and other documents of this influential poet and anti-apartheid activist.
The Center for the Study of Human Rights was co-founded in 1982 by the late WSU Professor of English Merrill Goldwyn and Worcester resident Rev. Paul Ferrin with the goal of bringing a strong human rights program to WSU. Since then, the center has aimed to promote awareness about various human rights issues through curriculum development and through lectures, speakers, and symposia that address these issues. Past speakers include Shirley Chisholm, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Eli Wiesel, Congressman James P. McGovern, Ariel Dacal Diaz, and Cynthia Enloe.
Former WSU President Janelle Ashley called Dennis Brutus a “beacon of hope for human rights around the world.” An outspoken activist, educator, and poet, Brutus confronted issues such as racism and the detrimental impact of globalization on impoverished nations. His devotion to human rights began in the 1950s and continued throughout his life. In the 1950s and 1960s, Brutus protested against the South African apartheid government and played a crucial role in having South Africa banned from the Olympics. He was subsequently arrested and sentenced to 18 months of hard labor on Robben Island, where he met Nelson Mandela.
Upon his release, Brutus fled to England and later to the United States, where he continued to protest against the apartheid government. WSU supported Dr. Brutus in his efforts to obtain political asylum in the U.S., which was granted in 1983. He delivered the inaugural address for the Center for the Study of Human Rights in 1982, the day before he was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters for both his courageous and undaunted activism in South Africa and for his distinguished achievement as a poet.
Out of gratitude, Dr. Brutus left many of his manuscripts to the university. His relationship with the University, in particular the Center for the Study of Human Rights, lasted for many years. Dr. Brutus participated in many human rights programs, conferences, and lectures. He continued to donate documents to WSU, and in March of 2000 the Dennis Brutus Collection was unveiled. Brutus passed away in 2009, but his dedication and inspirational message of human justice lives on.
Dr. Merrill Goldwyn was an English professor at WSU for 30 years. Goldwyn challenged his students to consider human rights issues with literature that incorporated issues of social justice. He was first inspired to bring human rights to WSU after meeting former political prisoners at an Amnesty International event in the early 1980s. Soon after, he established the Center for the Study of Human Rights and invited Dennis Brutus to be the inaugural speaker.
Brutus would continue his relationship with Goldwyn and WSU for many years to come. In November of 2008, WSU announced the establishment of the Merrill Goldwyn Fund to commemorate the man who spread the message of social justice and helped create the Center for the Study of Human Rights.