Partners in peace
Class connects students, donors and global groups confronting the legacy of mass violence
Atrocity can take many forms and strike anywhere around the globe: The 1994 Rwandan genocide, which led to the massacre of more than half a million people along ethnic lines. The Armenian genocide, officially denied by the Turkish government. Argentina’s “Dirty War,” in which children of dissidents were stolen away, had their identities erased and were then raised by families that supported the regime. Girls sold into sexual slavery in Cambodia.
Established in late 2016, Binghamton University’s Institute for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention (I-GMAP) goes beyond the study of atrocities and violence to focus on their prevention, a rarity in higher education.
Through the Charles E. Scheidt Faculty Fellows program, I-GMAP works with professors to incorporate atrocity prevention into the classroom.
Among the first fellows when the program began three years ago, Associate Professor of Public Administration David Campbell from the College of Community and Public Affairs (CCPA) put his knowledge into action with Introduction to Non-Governmental Organizations, a graduate-level course offered in spring 2020.
Campbell is known for classes with an applied learning component: Students in his undergraduate Foundations of Civic Engagement class worked the polls during the November 2020 elections, and his Philosophy and Civil Society course distributes thousands of dollars to local nonprofits each year.
His non-governmental organizations (NGO) class was no exception. The class members not only studied the role that NGOs play in genocide and mass atrocity prevention around the world, they also learned directly from the organizations themselves. In turn, participating NGOs each received funding, courtesy of Binghamton alumnus Larry Morgenthal ’88 and his wife Jessica, who committed to donate $7,500 each year for three years to the program.
“I wanted the students to have a very personalized experience, one in which they were able to meet the leaders of these NGOs, talk to them and really feel as if they understood the role these NGOs play in the communities in which they operate,” Campbell says.
A course on non-governmental organizations proved a good fit for a curriculum aligned with I-GMAP. NGOs exist separately or even in opposition to their nation’s government, and engage in a wide range of activities, such as providing services, education or advocacy.
“In every country, there are non-governmental organizations that are dealing with the consequences of human rights issues or mass atrocity,” Campbell says.
Fifteen students took part in the inaugural class, connecting with small NGOs in Argentina, Cambodia, Kosovo, Rwanda and Turkey, including:
* The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina, which works on behalf of children taken from women who were killed during the “Dirty War” and placed with adoptive families in the Argentinian ruling class. The organization advocates for genetic testing to identify these children and seeks to reunite them with their biological families.
* Free to Shine in rural Cambodia, which provides education, equipment and other support to young girls and their families to protect them from sex trafficking.
* Community Building Mitrovica in Kosovo, which brings together Serbs and Albanians in the ethnically divided city of Mitrovica.
* Community-Based Sociotherapy of Rwanda, which works with Hutus and Tutsis to facilitate healing and reconciliation among survivors and perpetrators of the genocide.
* Karakutu in Turkey, which provides programs such as memory walks to teach aspects of Turkish history related to the Armenian genocide and other human rights issues ignored by the government.
Teams of three students each focused on a particular NGO and created grant proposals that answered questions about the organization, its mission, and its role in the country and in addressing mass atrocity. In return, each NGO received $1,000 for participating. Students also awarded an additional $2,500 to the organization they judged to have the greatest atrocity prevention potential: Community-Based Sociotherapy of Rwanda.
While representatives from the participating NGOs spoke English, the class faced other logistical challenges — in addition to the global pandemic that forced the University to transition its classes to an online format. Students had to find the best way to communicate across time zones and with potentially unreliable internet connections. The Cambodian team, for example, would connect with the organization after class ended at night — which was 9 a.m. in the nation’s capital, Phnom Penh.
Satenik Papyan, a Fulbright scholar from Armenia, came to Binghamton in 2018 to earn her master’s degree in public administration (MPA). Now a doctoral student, she has a decade of experience working for local and national NGOs in her home country.
She joined the team working with Karakutu, the Turkish group, but was initially hesitant: Would the program staff feel comfortable working with an Armenian student?
“After I learned about its mission, I had no doubt I wanted to work with them,” she says. “The NGO in Turkey had only two permanent staff, but they did a tremendous amount of work. Most of its programs were implemented by volunteers and we really wanted to help them. This was one of the most real-life experiences I have had in the MPA program.”
Aubrey Baranowski, a second-year MPA student who focused on the Argentinian organization, also found the class “eye-opening.” She appreciated the insight into the obstacles NGOs face in countries where the government doesn’t support their work, and the strategies they use to achieve their missions in unsupportive climates.
“It was such a valuable experience and I loved every minute of it,” she says.
For Jorge Jose Hadad Rey, the class represented a welcome broadening of the MPA program’s scope. An international student from Cuba, he felt the program had too much of a focus on New York and the United States, and expressed his concerns to Campbell.
“Creating this course exemplifies Professor Campbell’s responsiveness to students’ needs and willingness to adapt our curriculum to those needs,” Rey says. “For me, it was also proof of the program’s capacity to adapt.”
Rey worked with the Kosovar organization CBM, which eagerly shared information with the students. Founded several years after the Serbian-Albanian conflict, the organization was the only NGO dealing with peacemaking and inter-ethnic cooperation in the region for its first 10 years, Rey says.
“Working with them allowed me to first learn about the Serbian-Albanian context. Context is something I consider very important because sometimes outsiders only know the big picture but lack an understanding of the details that make up that big picture,” he says.
Deciding which organization would receive extra funding proved difficult, especially since students developed a connection to the missions of the organization they studied. Each team gave a presentation on its assigned organization, along with a persuasive argument as to why it deserved that additional grant.
Students then discussed the merits of each and held a vote, Baranowski said. Ultimately, the class members believed that the additional funds would go farther in Rwanda, potentially making more of an impact there.
“I developed a small rubric to make sure my emotions did not influence my decision,” Papyan says.
Nicolas Habarugira, field coordinator for CBS in Rwanda, is familiar with Binghamton: He took part in I-GMAP’s practitioners-in-residence program, which brings international visitors to campus. During his weeklong visit in 2018, he met the campus community, spoke to classes and made a public presentation about CBS’ work.
In Campbell’s class, Habarugira discussed his organization’s impact in Rwanda, as well as the legal framework there and how CBS measures and evaluates results. Known as Mvura Nkuvere in Rwanda, Community-Based Sociotherapy seeks to create an open environment that fosters discussion, peer support and the development of trust, he says. Together, community members acknowledge, share and manage the problems they face related to their experience of violence.
“Our target groups are mainly Rwandan communities who have suffered in one way or another from genocide against the Tutsis in 1994. It is a community-based intervention,” Habarugira says.
Program participants include genocide survivors, perpetrators and their descendants; current and former prisoners and their spouses; and single mothers, families in conflict, refugees and those returning from exile. The funds that CBS received from the class will go to further its work. Possibilities include training volunteers, arranging transportation, meetings with stakeholders and fostering socioeconomic activities among participants.
“We thank you so much for the contribution and collaboration, which I think is just a beginning,” Habarugira says.
The meaning of giving
Giving is powerful — and not just to the recipients, or even the students learning from the experience.
An economics major who went on to a successful career in investment management, Larry Morgenthal has stayed involved in Binghamton for more than 30 years. He serves on the Binghamton University Foundation Board and its Investment Committee, where he first learned about I-GMAP’s work.
“It really struck a chord for us because my mother was a Holocaust survivor and had left Austria during World War II,” he says. “We’re always looking for ways to support Binghamton, but I really was intrigued by the mission relating to mass atrocities, which, unfortunately, we’ve learned is much more common than is usually perceived.”
The Morgenthals’ gift has given them a gift in turn: the ability to see their impact on students’ education and in regions around the world struggling to address the legacy of violence and suffering.
“There are so many things going on at the school and there are so many worthy causes. If you spend a little bit of time expressing where your interests are, you can find something that really resonates with you,” Morgenthal says. “Many of us write a check and call it a day, but I think if you want to make it more meaningful, you’ve just got to search outside the box.”