2016-03-02 / Voice at the Shore

New Stockton online program attracts people worldwide seeking to prevent genocide

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER
Voice Shore Correspondent


Dr. Elisa von Joeden-Forgey, director of Stockton’s Master of Arts in Holocaust and Genocide Studies, oversees the new online Genocide Prevention Certificate program. Dr. Elisa von Joeden-Forgey, director of Stockton’s Master of Arts in Holocaust and Genocide Studies, oversees the new online Genocide Prevention Certificate program. “Never Again.”

What if we had a fail-safe way of keeping this resolution, uttered by countless Jews since the horror of Nazi death camps was revealed? What if we could come up with strategies to ensure that another Holocaust never happened—not to Jews or to any other people on earth?

That is the dream that inspired Stockton University’s new online Genocide Prevention Certificate (GPC) program. The yearlong program is the first graduate certificate program of its kind in the world, according to Dr. Elisa von Joeden-Forgey, director of Stockton’s Master of Arts in Holocaust and Genocide Studies program.

The goal of the new online GPC program: To provide practical, useful information to the people who can make a difference in preventing genocide— busy professionals in atrisk countries worldwide who work for the government, the military, the business sector and non-governmental organizations.


Dr. Tibi Galis, executive director of the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, worked with Stockton in developing the new online program’s curriculum. Dr. Tibi Galis, executive director of the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, worked with Stockton in developing the new online program’s curriculum. “We are responding to a need for training among professionals around the world,” said von Joeden-Forgey.

A handful of these professionals began taking GPC program classes in January. “We have 10 students admitted to the GPC program, six of whom are taking classes immediately and four who plan to start in the summer.” Another 15 have already applied for the fall, she added. “The students are from all over the world, including France, Burundi, Cambodia, South Africa and Argentina. There is an interest in these countries in not repeating the past,” said von Joeden-Forgey.

“We did not expect large registrations this first semester because we only started marketing in December after the program was approved,” she added. The smallness is actually an advantage, she noted, because it allows Stockton to refine the program and work out the kinks more easily. “An online course like this is a new platform for us,” she explained.

The GPC program was designed with the help of the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR), a New York City-based organization dedicated to preventing genocide through education and training. “We are modeling our program on a series of workshops, called the Lemkin Seminars, offered by the Auschwitz Institute,” said von Joeden-Forgey, who has taught Lemkin Seminar classes on-site at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The Lemkin Seminar is named for Raphael Lemkin, the Polish Jewish lawyer who coined the term “genocide” and spearheaded efforts to encourage the United Nations to take action to prevent genocide. Organized in partnership with the United Nations and Poland’s Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum (where the seminar takes place), the weeklong Lemkin Seminar brings together 25 government officials and others from around the world dedicated to atrocity prevention and human rights. The Auschwitz Institute also seeks to form an international network of people working on genocide prevention through continuous contact with its Lemkin Seminar alumni.

Von Joeden-Forgey worked closely with AIPR executive director Tibi Galis to develop the curriculum for the GPC program. The resulting program is pragmatic, prevention-oriented, and facilitates networking among busy professionals in diverse countries around the world. The online forums allow participants in different time zones to share responses to assigned readings and to interact with one another as their schedules allow. Notably, the GPC program’s very first classes are being taught by AIPR’s Galis and another AIPR faculty member, James Waller.

The GPC program curriculum includes one course in history of the Holocaust or genocide, three courses on how genocide develops over time, a course on early warning systems, and another course on interventions that can be made after genocide or holocaust occur to ensure it doesn’t happen again. According to von Joeden-Forgey, the central question addressed by these courses is: “What is the process by which ordinary people get turned into perpetrators who kill their neighbors, or children, women and other vulnerable members of society,” and what kind of interventions can prevent this from happening?

During the certificate program’s final “capstone” course, participants do research in cooperation with the United Nations Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, which came up with a “new framework for understanding atrocity crimes” in 2012, said von Joeden-Forgey.

In the future, von Joeden- Forgey hopes to expand the range of courses offered (her wish list includes courses on refugees, public health, and the use of technology and social media to prevent genocide) and ideally offer a full online master’s program on genocide prevention. She would also like to see Stockton offer annual or biannual workshops on topics related to genocide prevention, aimed at “coming up with a set of documents that would point the way forward, thereby advancing the field. We’d like to start global conversations that are not yet happening [on genocide prevention].”

“Stockton is such a perfect place for this program,” she added, noting that the Sara and Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center is an important resource for supporting the GPC program. “Stockton was the first higher education institution to offer a master’s program in Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Genocide prevention is grounded in Holocaust education,” she stressed.

Moreover, she added, there is a glaring need for a program like Stockton’s online Genocide Prevention program.
“There are conflict-resolution and peace building programs elsewhere in the country, but at the moment there are no other graduate certificate programs in genocide prevention, not just in the U.S. but globally as well.”

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