PROVIDENCE, R.I. (A.W.)—On May 10, the Rhode Island Holocaust-Genocide Education Committee held a special program in the Governor’s State Room at the R.I. State House to commemorate the passage of Rhode Island legislation requiring Holocaust and Genocide education be studied in public middle and high schools. Dr. Henry Theriault, a distinguished authority on Genocide Studies and President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS), discussed the current climate of human rights as it relates to genocide and why this subject matter should be studied in school.
Theriault, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at Worcester State University, said that educating students to become more active participants in the world can make a difference when it comes to recognizing genocide and combatting its evil effects whenever it takes place. He cited examples of how students have worked to affect change, including protests by students of the shootings in Parkland, Florida, and the Vietnam War.
During the Holocaust people stood by, watching, while millions of people were transported to death camps like Auschwitz. Adolf Hitler studied the Armenian Genocide. He learned that whole governments and the public did little, if anything, to denounce the mass killings, brutality and displacement of the Armenian people as a justification for what became known as the Holocaust.
Not until the genocides in Kosovo and Bosnia, as well as in Rwanda, did people begin to actively react to putting an end to such atrocities. It is not surprising that students at our universities and schools had just begun studying the topic of genocide. Students from organizations such as STAND (Students Taking Action Now: Darfur), Theriault said, brought genocide policy to the media for public awareness and discussion. They demonstrated against the mass killings and displacement of people in the Darfur Genocide beginning in 2003.
Theriault stated that through the study of this subject matter and the education of our students, we create a framework for community dialogue with understanding and activism to put an end to atrocities. We must teach students how to learn and understand people in the global society in order to bring about positive change. Genocide education, as Theriault said, is not just about the past, but about now.
Shortly after the presentation, resolutions to commemorate the passage of legislation in 2016 requiring Holocaust and Genocide education in the state were unanimously passed in both the House and the Senate. Representative Jason Knight of District 67 in Barrington and Warren, the primary sponsor of the House resolution, spoke of the importance of Holocaust and Genocide education, as did Senator Gayle Goldin of District 3, Providence, the primary sponsor in the Senate.