As part of our mission of identifying and educating the women and men who will become tomorrow’s leaders in preventing genocide, the Auschwitz Institute, in conjunction with Professor Alex Hinton of Rutgers University in Newark, has developed an undergraduate course in genocide prevention. This semester Prof. Hinton is teaching the course for the first time, and AIPR has invited the students to share about it on our blog.

So today we present our first Guest Preventer from Rutgers–Newark:

My name is Konrad Ratzmann, and I am an anthropology major at Rutgers–Newark looking to graduate in 2012. The topic of genocide has intrigued me for several years, although mostly in a nonacademic sense. I had long wondered how humans could possess the capacity to inflict such vast amounts of suffering and death on the basis of identity alone. Coming to Rutgers and studying war, colonialism, violence, and genocide in various courses and disciplines provided me with some insights toward the systematic processes and psychological aspects that make such atrocities possible, but none of them seemed to discuss what could be done to prevent such horrors in the future. This always irritated me. After all, what good was studying such things if nothing was being done to stop them? Purely academic studies can provide meaningful insights to the fields in which they are performed, but I feel that there should be, at the very least, an attempt toward an academic activism of sorts. When I had to register for classes and I saw Genocide Prevention, I knew that I had found a class that could provide me with the experience I was looking for.

Of course some traditional academic concepts and theories were addressed at the beginning of the semester, such as the varying definitions of genocide and the conflicts that arise due to disparities between definitions. This frustrated me, to some degree, because I felt that genocide is an atrocity that is far too horrid to ever be defined to complete satisfaction—the academic quibbling about the semantics of genocide seemed to miss the importance of the issue and fall into self-centered patterns that hinder progress. After all, what is the use of debating whether or not something is “technically” genocide when the death tolls continue to rise? However, my outlook was soon changed as the course progressed. As noted by Adam Jones, who addressed the class on February 15, such discussions are important because they signify an increase and continuous interest in the field of genocide studies, and thus allow for more minds to focus on working toward prevention in a multitude of manners.

The opportunity to interact with the minds behind genocide study and prevention makes this course unlike any other I have taken before. It is in such meetings that the true beauty of this course exists. Being exposed to new approaches toward genocide studies and prevention efforts every week is not only enlightening and informing, but also inspiring. In actually meeting the minds behind conflicting definitions and approaches to genocide, I see the importance of the academic conflicts—different conceptions of what constitutes genocide allow for different approaches toward prevention; disagreements inspire greater focus on issues of contention. In this sense, such discussions allow for genocide prevention efforts to be more encompassing. If nobody was concerned with whether or not gendercide or politicide could be considered as aspects of genocide, then perhaps efforts to combat such sufferings would be overlooked. A lack of academic consensus does not hinder progress, as I had previously felt; instead, it is one of the most valuable tools at our disposal in ensuring that our efforts to reduce suffering and genocidal violence are as encompassing as possible.