By CHRISTINE LIM

This week on GenPrev in the Classroom, we are excited to take a look at the degree-granting graduate studies in genocide offered via Rutgers University’s Center for the Study of Genocide, Conflict Resolution, and Human Rights, located on the Newark, NJ campus.

I envisioned this post as a very brief Q & A on a graduate-level genocide studies program, but it made more sense in the case of Rutgers to explore what made the program unique. For instance, Rutgers University offers a course actually entitled “Genocide Prevention.” Verbalizing why it is so special to have a university course available at all that is called “genocide prevention” took far longer than expected. My theory is that it is because Rutgers has the only Ph.D. program available for Global Issues as opposed to International Issues.

There are some texts for sale with the phrase “genocide prevention,” and briefings, discussions, or protests but very few courses. A few clarifications should be made about this matter before we delve further into the wonderful programs that Rutgers offers.

genocide prevention : genocide studies :: activism : academia

The category of this post is “GenPrev in the Classroom,” but it would be more accurate to call it “genocide studies in the classroom.” The anxiety about this discrepancy is not overwhelming, because in all likelihood the effective study of genocide at any educational level (even as early as grade school) instills in students some motivation to help prevent it if possible.

This might be another one of those distinctions that seem obvious and instinctive for others, but in case anyone was wondering, there is an imperfect overlap between activism and academia. The burning question in my mind after a few weeks of writing exclusively about genocide prevention was why I had never heard of a doctoral program in genocide prevention, or even a college level course devoted to it.

I thought that it was probably too specialized and thus collapsed into syllabi for more general courses on human rights, international studies, public policy, or mass atrocities. When I found degree-granting graduate-level programs in genocide studies, I looked for the phrase “genocide prevention” in the course lists and almost never encountered it, not even in the descriptions. Did the phrase “genocide prevention” just not exist in academia? If so, why not?

As we established last week, multiple Ph.D. programs for “genocide studies” exist. Even in the lists of core and elective courses in the graduate programs, however, I almost never saw the phrase “genocide prevention.” It soon became clear that Rutgers offers, to the best of my knowledge, the only recurring, non-military-affiliated, university-level course in genocide prevention. Why is this the case?

I asked my old human rights professor about this, and her reply amounted to,

Your question makes no sense because that is not how major research universities work. Academic research is not activism. Graduate programs are not centers or institutes or working groups for this reason.The aim of a liberal education is not to train people to do a particular job in the world but to help build the critical-thinking capacity and flexibility in students to tackle any problem as they encounter it, drawing upon all of the relevant resources available to them. Specific historical and contemporary cases are often used as teaching examples within university courses, but no particular piece of knowledge is considered absolutelynecessary.

Of course she has a point. Of course even someone with a Ph.D. in genocide studies may never have gone through a professional training program such as the ones offered by the Auschwitz Institute or the UN Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide for acting government officials. Academic research and the practical prevention of genocide are two separate endeavors. We can expect graduates of genocide studies programs to hold their own in theoretical discussions, but unless they have the extracurricular experience to back themselves up, there is no reason to assume that they are also trained activists.

So this blog is about genocide prevention, and there is an important difference between genocide prevention and genocide studies. Genocide studies require academic research in a specific field of inquiry (possibly in the proverbial ivory tower), while genocide prevention requires activism in the real world. There is a great likelihood of some overlap and cross-fertilization between the two endeavors at various points in time, with academics becoming activists or activists becoming academics. But there is no guarantee that a student of genocide will become a genocide prevention activist, and vice versa.

I am not the first person to be puzzled or worried by this phenomenon. This abstract of the annual Salzburg Global Seminar called The Global Prevention of Genocide: Learning From the Holocaust, which was first offered in 2010, encapsulates the essence of what I had been seeing and being bothered by instinctively but not verbalizing well enough:

Today, many states have recognized the importance of teaching about the Holocaust and using it as a mechanism for preventing racism, ethnic conflict, and genocide. There are a growing number of state mandates, as well as impressive private initiatives, that seek to achieve this. Nevertheless, at the classroom level few schools or universities have actually succeeded in implementing Holocaust education programs that link the history of the Holocaust with the contemporary prevention of racism and genocide. This failure is exacerbated by the continuing divide and lack of communication between individuals and organizations working in the fields of Holocaust studies, and those working in the area of genocide prevention. The aim of the Salzburg Global Seminar’s project is, therefore, to make the prevention of genocide a central part of Holocaust education curricula.

That being said, Rutgers University has one of the only courses, if not the only course specifically called “Genocide Prevention,” and aims to connect the academic study of genocide with the movement aimed at preventing it. Here is the syllabus.

Q&A

1. What types of graduate-level degrees are offered in the field of genocide studies at Rutgers?

The Center for the Study of Genocide, Conflict Resolution, and Human Rights, together with the Division of Global Affairs, a doctoral program ranked fifth nationally in international affairs and development, offers a Master of Science in Global Affairs with a concentration in genocide, political violence, or human rights. One may also focus on genocide and human rights issues while completing a Ph.D. in the Division of Global Affairs. 

2. What makes Rutgers’s Ph.D. program unique?

Rutgers has the only Ph.D. program in “Global Affairs,” as opposed to “International Affairs,” and offers one of the only courses in the country actually titled “genocide prevention.”

3. There are so many “international relations” or “international affairs” programs. What is the difference between “global affairs” and “international affairs”?

International affairs” has to do with relationships between nations, while “global affairs” pertains more generally to the whole world. Like hunger. Or war. It is about the big problems of humanity that transcend and permeate nations and their boundaries. Genocide is also such a problem. An easy way to think of this is that even if the world could be united under a global hegemon tomorrow, he or she would still have to deal with these big, global problems.

4. What can a “global” approach to the problem of contemporary genocide bring to the table that an “international” approach does not?

Starting a discussion by framing genocide as a contemporary global issue or problem immediately focuses attention on genocide as a current, ongoing phenomenon. It is like telling someone that they have caught on fire. What did we learn in elementary school? Stop, drop, and roll. The first logical response is, “Can we fix or stop genocide?”

But to make another, this time biological metaphor, it is easier and far less expensive to prevent obesity than to try and cure it after the symptoms have set in. For obesity prevention, one can eat right and exercise regularly. So the most efficient solution to the problem of genocide is probably prevention. It’s literally only a two- or three-step thought process to even get to the idea of prevention. Fire –> Ending –> Preventing

5. So is it a coincidence that one of the only places one can find a course specifically on genocide prevention at the graduate level is the same place that offers the only Ph.D. program in Global Affairs?

Probably not. There must be something about the international (literally, “between nations”) approach to the study of genocide that can make it a long and difficult journey to the phrase “genocide prevention” to pop up in one’s head. One could go through an entire Ph.D. program on genocide studies without even touching upon how to preventcontemporary genocide. One could focus entirely on past genocides—which is not surprising, because while genocide studies is by its nature interdisciplinary and interdepartmental (history, law, anthropology, political science, sociology, anthropology, psychology, public policy, humanities, are just some of the departments that come to mind), many of the genocide studies programs unsurprisingly arose from the historical study of the Holocaust. As soon as you get that many academics into a room, the language gets increasingly abstract. Using phrases such as “mass atrocities” instead of “genocide,” or “conflict prevention” instead of “genocide prevention,” would be examples.

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