SSU lecture series turns 30
Important series grows to include holocaust and genocide survivors
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By Kaydon Coburn  February 15, 2013 12:00 am

A curriculum cornerstone of the Sonoma State University Sociology Department has begun its 30th year. The annual Holocaust and Genocide Lecture Series features a distinguished speaker on campus each Tuesday until May 7.

“This is a longstanding gem of the Sonoma State curriculum,” explains new series director Diane Parness. “It’s really one of the most important things this university does, and over time there has been more emphasis on bringing speakers, eminent, and preeminent scholars in the field from around the country and around the world.”

The “Seeds of Remembrance” is this year’s lecture series theme. The lecture series is part of the Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide, a non-profit academic institute housed in the Department of Sociology. The lecture series serves the unique dual function as a university course and is also open to the public. A different theme is selected for each year’s lecture series in order to give a variety of perspectives and interpretations.

“April 14 is when we plant the sapling from the tree that stood in front of Anne Frank’s house. We are one of the very few, elite places in this country who receives saplings from that tree,“ Parness said proudly. “That’s another illustration of the regard we’re held in.”

Many of the guest speakers in the past have been faculty members or local experts. Recently, more emphasis is on attaining speakers from all over the country and throughout the world, representing disciplines that range from history to philosophy to biology to political science as well as many others.

“In the past few years there has been a marked increase in the number of outside speakers who are eminent. We are very pleased to see we are exposing our students to other points of view,” Parness said.

The lecture series continues to be a popular course in the program and regularly enrolls over 100 students each spring semester. “A hundred students a year take this. That’s a huge enrollment for a course such as this,” professor Gerald Markle says. “I don’t know you would find that anywhere else.”

Added Parness, “Each year the lecture series course is completely filled and many students may not get in. We have to cut off at one hundred. It is always full.”

The lectures have been offered for academic credit since the 1983-84 academic year.

Another aspect of the program is the participation of holocaust survivors, liberators and rescuers, as well as the contributions of active researchers in the field. A powerful component of the lectures includes personal eyewitness accounts of holocaust survivors and more recently survivors of the Rwandan, Cambodian, and Bosnian genocides.

“Every year, professor Myrna Goodman (center director) has had a few survivors from the Nazi genocide and Jewish Holocaust. Those days are coming to an end because of the natural lifespan,” Markle says solemnly. “The war was over in ’45, and the people that now come are quite elderly and the handwriting is on the wall – it won’t be much longer before we won’t have any.”
Celebrating its 30th anniversary, the highly successful lecture series program sells itself to potential guest speakers solely on reputation alone.

“We have a very strong national reputation and our status in the community of scholars of genocide studies is high,” Parness says, “so typically is the case when we contact someone, they already know of the lecture series. We now have the funding, the support we need to bring in increasing numbers of really prominent scholars. We are delighted to afford our students this opportunity. We have increasingly included other genocides in the lecture series, including some very hot, current situations and we intend to do more of that in the years to come.”

The lectures run through May 7 at Warren Hall each Tuesday from 4-5:40 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, go to

Parness encourages the public to take advantage of the free world-class lecture series. “It’s a very important contribution to the culture of Rohnert Park and Cotati, so they (public) should take advantage of it,” she said.

Lecture series schedule: Feb.19, “Bosnia and Herzegovina: Transitioning from Genocide to Justice,” with Leijla Marvis; Feb. 26, “Genocide in Sudan with Hamdan Gouumaa; March 5, “The Aftermath t Genocide in Rwanda” with Mathilde Mukantabana and Simon Mudahogora; March 12, “We Exist! Descendants of the Cambodian Genocide Speak Out” with Lucia Roncalli; April 2, “Becoming Evil,” with James Waller; April 9, “The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning” with James E. Young; April 16, “Lessons Learned From a Holocaust Childhood” with Hans Angress; April 23, “Remembering Jan Karski: A Holocaust Hero” with E. Thomas Wood; April 30, “Perspectives on War Crimes” with Eric Williams; and May 7, “Genocide Beneath Our Feet” with Brenda Flyswithhawks.

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