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Sage Center Colloquium Explores Genocide Studies

By Sanan Shirinian, Director of the Sage Center
The Sage Center Colloquium Series officially launched in January 2024, and each year will offer dynamic mini-courses that amplify content to elevate a global consciousness.

When first contemplating the right topic for the inaugural Sage Center Colloquium Series, Genocide Studies seemed to be of unanimous interest. Three of the Sage Center team members are descendants of genocide survivors, which often comes with a deep sense of responsibility to raise awareness and live up to our obligations toward humanity. 

As we prepared to begin sessions, none of us could have imagined that the subject would resurface with such intensity on the world stage. While the timeliness was unplanned, it allowed for our students to be more mindful in applying their thinking to the violence that continues to unfold in the 21st century. 

Our goal was clear: to equip students with a legal, ethical and political understanding of genocide and elevate their thinking around a commonly used narrative. 

The first two-hour session kicked off in January 2024, focusing on the years-long struggle to adopt the new term and concept of Genocide (genos + cide), that was up until 1948, “a crime without a name.” 

Students also studied the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the legal parameters within the international court systems along with their shortcomings, and distinguishing key concepts such as genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and more. 

The second session unpacked the moral and ethical dimensions of genocide, considering how groups of people become capable of committing state-sponsored violence, while also questioning the bystander effect. Students also used virtual reality headsets to engage in pre-recorded conversations with a genocide survivor. 

The final session examined how the media plays a pivotal role in shaping the narrative around mass atrocities and the impact propaganda has on dictating global perceptions. The course ended on a hopeful note around large-scale humanitarian responses and interventions that have taken place. 

This inaugural cohort concluded the Colloquium with a visit to the Armenian Genocide Monument in Montebello, Calif., and Holocaust Museum LA. These culminating experiences at a public memorial site and museum underscored the power of communal gathering spaces where visitors can pay their respects, symbolizing preservation of collective memory, providing a sense of healing, and much more. 

As a community devoted to inquiry and seeking truths, we understand that the greatest movement toward change begins within the minds of our students. To learn from the tragedies of the past, stay vigilant around the injustices of today, and lead us toward a future where genocides exist only in the pages of history. 

“Participating in the Colloquium was an experience I will never forget,” said Sophie Kramer, a sophomore among the 16 students who completed the Colloquium. “The ability to gain valuable insight into our current world is an opportunity that will stick with me for the rest of my life.”
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