New endowed chair of human rights says she expects to learn from students

    Shannonbrooke Murphy, new professor and endowed chair of the human rights deparment, said she likes the 'human scale' of St. Thomas University. (Anna Sirois/AQ)

    Since Shannonbrooke Murphy was 14, she participated in advocacy groups such as Youth Against Apartheid.

    Now, she’s the professor and endowed chair of the human rights department at St. Thomas University.

    “What I enjoy the most about the study of human rights is learning about cases of how people against huge odds stand up to oppression,” Murphy said.

    “I enjoy cases where … people stand up for themselves and enforce their human rights, whether inside or outside of the courtroom. That inspires me.”

    She received a bachelor of arts honours with high distinction from the University of Toronto and completed a masters in law and international human rights law at the National University of Ireland Galway with first class honours.

    She said she had a good experience at the University of Toronto, but the university was too big.

    “It’s a lot like getting your undergraduate degree in a big industrial kind of factory … It wasn’t a personalized experience. So I like the human scale of STU,” she said.

    She then received a PhD in law at Middlesex University in London, England. Her thesis was called The Human Rights to Resist in International and Constitutional Law.

    While she was an undergraduate student, she spent time in Washington, D.C. For nearly twenty years following, she became the legislative political advisor for the president of the Sinn Fein Irish political party, Mary Lou McDonald.

    A few years later, she was promoted to the National Director of Policy for the organization, where they worked in three jurisdictions.

    “In that capacity, I was responsible for the oversight of the development of a coherent and comprehensive political program, which was [a] rights-based social and economic policy that is consistent with Ireland’s international obligations.”

    Murphy said she’s “making a fresh start” by transitioning from being a political advisor to a professor at STU.

    “I expect to learn from my students,” she said.

    “[They] are from a different generation than me and have different perspectives, different priorities, and different experiences.”

    Murphy is also working on her first book, under the same name as her doctoral thesis, where she will continue her research to help others know their rights through a legal lens and to help activists assert their rights with a legal basis of understanding.

    Murphy is currently teaching Activism and Social Justice and Thesis Proposal classes. She will teach Rights and Revolution, Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and Human Rights Theory for second semester. She also has plans to teach several special topics courses specialized in the right to resist and right to self-determination.

    She said she commends students that are getting involved in initiatives such as Fridays for the Future.

    “I have a great respect for the students who put aside time in their life to make it a priority.”