Exploring the topic of genocide is complex and heartbreaking – but it must be done so that we can also explore ways to prevent it.

Ausra Park, Ph.D., associate professor of international relations, has been selected in a national competition to attend a workshop that will develop best practices to teach this challenging subject. 

This June, Park will join the Curt C. and Else Silberman Faculty Seminar on “Teaching Mass Atrocity: The Holocaust, Genocide, and Justice,” organized by the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies. The competition to select faculty participants for the 10-day seminar was sponsored by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“I’m very honored for being selected, and thrilled about this professional and pedagogical opportunity,” said Park.

She plans to use her experience to assess and improve her Politics of Genocides course that she will be teaching at Siena in the fall, which will focus in depth on six case studies. 

The summer seminar will address common themes relating to Holocaust and genocide studies, such as “othering,” violence, atrocity, justice, and restitution. It will also offer a range of pedagogical methods, course design approaches, and assignment development tools to help participants think through how to introduce these topics into their classrooms.

“This subject needs to be studied because just saying ‘Never again’ simply doesn’t work,” said Park. “Genocide is currently unfolding in multiple countries in the world today, and not enough awareness is being raised about it. Because it happens in a faraway country does not mean it shouldn’t matter to us.”

Park acknowledges that examining case studies of genocide can be difficult emotionally.  

“I understand that this can be traumatic, on top of us already being in a dark time with the pandemic,” but noted that analyzing the roots of genocide in Rwanda, Cambodia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and other countries can ultimately lead to more positive discussions of attaining justice for those who were victimized.

Political science major Zaki Farah ’23 is considering taking Park’s course this fall.

“Everyone deals with struggle in their life, but to be aware of the true extremes to which humanity can go is crucial,” said Farah. “We are so fortunate to have political freedom here.” 

Farah’s father was born in Syria; his mother in Venezuela. Both nations have a difficult history with political and social upheaval, and his family’s background has made him more aware of the need to explore why genocide occurs and how it can be prevented.

“In many third world countries, people wake up every day knowing it could be their last day alive,” he said. “We often complain about having political division here in this country, but I think it’s important to realize that we live in a democracy that allows freedom of speech and opinion. Many countries don’t have those freedoms, and their political decisions can be ones of life or death.”