This March is the tenth anniversary of CMC’s commitment to enhance the preparation of its students for leadership in human rights.
That decision by CMC President Pamela Gann led to the founding of the Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights, led initially by Professor John Roth and his successor, Professor Jonathan Petropoulos. Under their guidance, the early programming and activities of the Center emphasized the lessons of the Holocaust, in many ways the foundation of the modern understanding of human rights in all its moral, social, political, and economic dimensions. The Center’s early programming included a wide range of curricular and co-curricular activities. Students were offered the chance to pursue a sequence in Human Rights and Holocaust Studies, to attend lectures and conferences at the Athenaeum, and to participate in Center-funded academic travel and summer internships in the United States and around the world.
Initial funding for the Center came from a generous grant by Leigh Crawford, a Literature and Mathematics major at CMC, who went on to work at Trust Company of the West and later founded Crawford Capital LLC. Other early and generous members of the Center’s advisory board, included CMC Alums David Magrublian, James Quella, Bruce Soll, Heather Potters, Jeff Farber, and Elyssa Elbaz. The board has grown in the years since the founding and now includes Todd K. Barker ‘01, Michael Berenbaum Ph.D., AnneMerie Donoghue, Alan Fenning ‘72, Pamela B. Gann, Richard Hovannisian Ph.D., Kristen Edgreen Kaufman ‘98, Mark R. Palmer ‘88, Mark Segal ‘86, and Andrew W. Wright ‘68.
Five years ago, the Center broadened its focus and adopted the name Center for Human Rights Leadership. Professor Edward Haley was appointed director. Under his guidance the Center broadened its programming and internships and substantially increased the membership of the Center’s advisory board and the Center’s endowment. In order to place CMC students in outstanding human rights internships, the Center has recently established standing agreements with Human Rights Watch, the Danish Refugee Council, and the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking. Efforts are underway to build similar connections with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and Child Family Health International, the latter of special interest to CMC pre-med students. During these early years, Norine Zapata, who recently passed away, provided invaluable and deeply appreciated support to students and Center directors.
Among the Center’s many activities during the past decade a number stand out. In 2005 a group of CMC and Claremont Colleges students, supported by the Center, founded Students Against Genocide, (SAG) a national campaign to stop the genocide in Darfur. SAG raised more than $200,000 in support of organizations aiding the people of Darfur. A delegation of CMC students traveled to Washington to lobby the government to stop the murder of defenseless men, women, and children. CMC students involved in the Center also responded to Hurricane Katrina, raising funds and traveling to New Orleans to assist the victims of the story. Following the earthquake in Haiti, students raised $10,000 for earthquake relief, sharing the funds with Partners in Health and the micro-finance organization, Fonkoze.
On the academic side, Professors Roth and Petropoulos organized the Holocaust conference, Grey Zones: Ambiguity and Compromise in the Holocaust and Aftermath that brought a distinguished group of scholars from around the world to the United States and led to the publication of a book by the same name, edited by Roth and Petropoulos. After he became Center director, Professor Petropoulos also organized a conference, “Human Rights in China.” Continuing the Center’s tradition of academic research, last year Professor Haley led a team of student research assistants and the Center’s research and program coordinator, Kirsti Zitar (’97), in a study of the failed humanitarian response to famine in Somalia in 2011. Their paper, “Never Again, Yet Again,” was presented at the annual conference of genocide scholars in San Francisco in June 2012. This year, Center researchers are working with Professor Haley and Ms. Zitar on a year-long study of human rights violations in Syria.
The Center’s past has been filled with growth and change and graced by the activities of its students, visitors, and advisory board members. Its endowment has grown and its circle of support and recognition has continued to spread. What has not changed is the violence and hate in the world, a point exemplified by the Center’s current work concerning Syria. These are problems that will not go away on their own, but will require an ever renewing supply of leaders filled with knowledge, experience, understanding, and compassion.
–Joel Kirk, CMC ’16; Edward Haley