Faculty Members Gain International Perspective in East Africa

Faculty Members Gain International Perspective in East Africa

Faculty Members Gain International Perspective in East Africa
Dr. Swasti Bhattacharyya, Dr. Matt Packer, Dr. Stan Ullerich, Jamii Claiborne and Dr. Wind Goodfriend.

Five BVU faculty members recently visited East Africa as part of the McCorkle Fellowship program. During the two-week trip, the Fellows visited various destinations throughout Kenya and Rwanda to gain international perspectives and broaden their field of knowledge in their academic specialties.

The 2012 McCorkle Fellows were:

  • Jamii Claiborne, Class of 1996, who will be associate professor of digital media in the fall
  • Dr. Wind Goodfriend, Class of 1998, associate professor of psychology
  • Dr. Matt Packer, assistant professor of English
  • Dr. Swasti Bhattacharyya, associate professor of religion
  • Dr. Stan Ullerich, Class of 1982, professor of economics

The Fellows spent the first four days of the trip visiting national parks and wildlife preserves while on safari in Kenya. The remaining eight days were spent in Rwanda visiting several genocide memorial sites, the nation’s largest city and capital, Kigali, and meeting with local youth activists. The Fellows also met up with current and former BVU students from Rwanda.

This year, Goodfriend, who proposed the destination, led the trip. “One of my favorite parts of this job is traveling and having new experiences so that I can learn to better appreciate different kinds of people and different points of view,” she says.

“One aspect of the trip that was fascinating to me was trying to understand the psychological explanations of the 1994 genocide,” says Goodfriend. “The killers in Rwanda consistently referred to their Tutsi victims as ‘snakes’ or ‘cockroaches’ and used animal-based propaganda to spread messages of hatred. This dehumanization is something we can see across many other instances of genocide, and it’s a common technique in war. We can use this information in prevention efforts for the future, by emphasizing that every human life is valuable and precious.” This was Goodfriend’s second McCorkle Fellows trip; her first was to India in 2007. 

The Fellows also spent time in Rwanda with Issa Higiro, a Rwandan peace and human rights activist who works with young people to encourage nonviolent conflict resolution.

“Our time with Issa was very valuable,” says Bhattacharyya, who also traveled to India in 2007 and Turkey in 2009 as a McCorkle Fellow. “We visited a number of very sobering memorials. I was struck by how remembering is important, but to ensure terror is not repeated, remembering is not enough. Issa is involved in a project that is interviewing individuals who, in spite of the pressures, confusion and horror surrounding them, refused to participate in the genocide.  By getting their stories out and through intentional training in nonviolent response to conflict, Issa and others like him work for a better world — one where people are empowered to make different choices.” 

“As an ethicist, I examine the way people make decisions, how they live, and how they talk about what they do and why,” adds Bhattacharyya. “Elements from this portion of the trip will directly contribute to several courses I’m teaching in the fall and spring.”

Throughout the duration of the trip, Ullerich collected news articles, bulletins and publications for his students to examine the economic and governmental policies of East Africa.

“My optimism for the human condition is always bolstered when I travel to another land,” says Ullerich. “Despite our cultural differences, we’re nonetheless the same economically with several vital principles — the primacy of markets, the rule of law, meaningful incentives, predictable policies and limited government — that are needed for individual freedom and economic progress.” This was his first trip as part of the McCorkle Fellowship program.   

Packer plans on integrating his travel experience into the University Seminar course he will be teaching in the fall. “It’s a complex situation in Rwanda,” he says. “Following the genocide, there’s been great investment in the country making it one of the fastest growing economies in Africa. But outside the capital, Kigali, poverty is still very widespread. We’ll be reading about these topics and I hope some of our Rwandan students can visit class and share their knowledge.” This was Packer’s second McCorkle Fellows trip; his first was to Japan in 2010.  

“I did some reading about the role of the media during the Rwandan genocide, both the Rwandan media and the international media so I would have a bit of a historical perspective before the trip,” says Claiborne. “It was interesting to see the media in East Africa today. The messaging is interesting and powerful.  It was also intriguing to see the influence of Western media and advertising in East Africa — everything from the Coca Cola ads that plastered the Kenyan countryside to the ‘80s ballads by the bands at the hotel.”

This was Claiborne’s first international academic travel at BVU. “I have a broader understanding of the world now, and that will seep into so much of what I do and say and how I work in the classroom,” she says. 

This was the seventh year of the McCorkle Fellowship program, which was established through the generosity of the late Drs. Paul and Vivian McCorkle, Class of 1959, who were both Life Trustees of BVU, to provide selected faculty members with an opportunity for international travel to enhance their scholarly knowledge and to add international dimensions to the curriculum. Locations selected for McCorkle Fellows have included Argentina and Peru (2006); India (2007); Israel and Egypt (2008); Turkey (2009); Japan (2010); and South Korea (2011).