As Rwanda commemorates the 25th anniversary of the genocide that took the lives of more than a million people, a group of William & Mary students will spend three weeks examining the event through the eyes of those who experienced it. The seven-credit course is open to both undergraduate and graduate students and will take place May 14-31, 2019.
“Rwanda’s efforts toward peace, reconciliation and healing make it one of the best places on earth to learn about developing strong communities that transform suffering into human flourishing and community well-being,” says Spencer Niles, dean of the School of Education and co-instructor of the course. Daniel Gutierrez, assistant professor of counseling, will teach the course along with Niles.
The course is broadly applicable and will be beneficial for students in counseling, education, psychology, public health, religion, philosophy, humanities, sociology, political science, public policy, law and more.
Students will learn about the causes and stages of genocide, but the trip will primarily focus on the journey of reconciliation and forgiveness that the country’s people have undertaken in the years since the tragedy.
“This will be a transformational experience,” says Gutierrez. “Students will build relationships with both perpetrators and survivors and come to understand how individuals and an entire country can move forward constructively after such atrocities. There are powerful lessons about the nature of humanity that you can’t help but learn in such a place.”
William & Mary is partnering with Aegis Trust, an international organization working to prevent suicide, for the development and delivery of the course. Aegis Trust was founded to honor the memory of the victims of genocide and works to build long-term peace by encouraging communities to change mindsets of mistrust and prejudice to a position of shared responsibility for peace and stability.
“Their work is based on the Rwandan concept of Ubumuntu, which means recognizing the humanity of others,” said Gutierrez. “It’s about learning how to truly understand the plight of others and move forward from a place of shared humanity.”
In addition to readings, pre-trip assignments, and in-country activities, students will participate in a forgiveness project, in which they’ll apply the concepts they’ve learned as they examine their own lives and look for places for healing.
Students will also have the opportunity to experience the breathtaking beauty of Rwanda through excursions to national parks and cultural sites and will participate in service projects related to the ongoing reconciliation and commemoration efforts.