Newswise — BINGHAMTON, NY – A new, interdisciplinary institute at Binghamton University, State University of New York will generate scholarship, educate individuals, and develop courses and curricula exploring how we can better and understand and disrupt the processes that lead to genocide and mass atrocities.

The Institute for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention (I-GMAP) will focus on how to use scholarship in the social sciences and humanities to identify where a genocide is likely to take place – and how to work with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and governments to address those issues and stop horrible things from happening.

“This is very different from other programs. One can study atrocities and derive some lessons from them, but this Institute will be much more interdisciplinary in looking at how we can actually better predict and prevent the patterns that result in genocide or mass atrocity crimes,” said Binghamton University Provost Donald Nieman. “The ultimate goal is to be able to develop intervention strategies which over time will prevent terrible things – that happen all too frequently – from happening,” he added.

Binghamton alumnus Owen Pell, a chairman of the board of the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, is facilitating the Institute. The Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation is the leading provider of training for government officials from around the world in genocide and mass atrocity prevention. Pell has been involved with the Auschwitz Institute since its inception, and said there are two fundamental truths when discussing genocide and mass atrocities.

“The first, is if you ask most people what ‘genocide prevention’ means they will tell you ‘that is when we send the troops in to stop the killing,’” he said. “But, of course, that is not prevention, that is limiting a harm already underway.” Pell continued, “the second truth is that no genocide or mass atrocity is ever random or spontaneous. It’s always the culmination of a series of processes, and those can go back years and years, even decades.”

“When you recognize that genocide is more than the ultimate outbreak of terrible violence, and that, in reality, there are processes which are very long, and involve interconnected chains of events, then you begin to consider whether there might be ways to disrupt those processes and disrupt the cycles that culminate in genocide and mass atrocities.”

Max Pensky, professor of philosophy, and Nadia Rubaii, associate professor of public will co-direct the Institute.

“Part of the curriculum will be an international experience for students and the Institute will also bring different perspectives to campus in the form of post-doctoral fellows, practitioners-in-residence and conferences that include academics, government officials and representatives of civil society organizations,” said Rubaii. “It won’t be purely theoretical. There’ll be an extramural experience of some kind, perhaps in the U.S., but also in countries where governments and NGOs are proactive in terms of trying to prevent atrocities.”

“The Institute’s basic idea, for me, is that the academic social sciences and even the humanities must play a constructive part in answering some of these questions, and sharing those answers with the community of practitioners. The Institute can serve as a common ground for that work to take place,” said Pensky.

What brings Rubaii to the table is her expertise in the education of current and future government and nonprofit officials. She notes that “countries cannot effectively engage in prevention unless they have governments and NGOs at all levels – local, national, regional, international – that are committed to prevention and are led and staffed by people who have the skills to not just talk about or desire prevention, but who can actually manage the conversations and lessen the level of intensity when cycles of potential violence escalate.”

“The Institute will work from the assumption that effective prevention requires an investment in evidence-based and practitioner-oriented educational programs that can then contribute to changes in both policies and practices grounded in collaboration across sectors,” she said. “And I also have a deep interest and experience in Latin America, which is a particular area of interest for the donor, but is largely absent from the literature. There is a tremendous opportunity for prevention in Latin America because of the history of and ongoing potential for violence there.”

Rubaii said there is a Latin American Network affiliated with the Auschwitz Institute, as well as a network involving the nations of the Great Lakes Region of Africa. “These are forums to bring together the key individuals in government and our Institute has a great potential to assist them in that process,” she said.

It is expected that, beginning in fall 2017, students will be able to pursue an interdisciplinary undergraduate minor or a graduate certificate in genocide and mass atrocities prevention, said Rubaii. “Ultimately, we plan to offer an entirely new master’s degree, and hope to secure SUNY and State Department of Education approval of a program in time to enroll our first master’s students in 2020.”

In addition to the curricular component, the Institute will bring practitioners-in-residence to campus beginning in spring 2017, will host annual conferences and will put out a call for research proposals in the near future.