WINCHESTER, Va. - Shenandoah University’s first year seminar program has two components; all freshmen must sign up and all seminars must have a global component.
"There are different kinds, involving different subject areas. And mine was called Remnants of Genocide," said university sophomore Ryan Davis.
It was Davis’s 2012 seminar class that decided to visit the United Nations in New York City last year. They went to present a video they had made, one that documented genocide atrocities.
"We thought we were just going to shake a couple hands of some interns, somebody who sits at a desk,” started Davis. “But then when we presented our video , he actually walked in and introduced himself. And this, this is the man."
Who is that man? His name is Adam Dieng, and he's the guy the United Nations relies on when it comes to advice on genocide prevention. He’s been a special adviser to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon since July 2012.
“It was a kind of magic moment in my life,” Dieng said, when talking about his first encounter with Shenandoah’s young activists. "Here comes a group of young people who were so full of passion and compassion, and we spent time talking about atrocity crimes."
That discussion sparked an open dialogue with Dieng. He was so impressed by the students that he promised to visit Shenandoah and bring the topic of genocide prevention to Winchester.
"The special adviser was so surprised that the students created this iMovie. He told us it was the first time a university approached the office to really deliver a work they had [created],” said Petra Schweitzer, an Associate Professor of World Languages and Cultures at Shenandoah University.
Schweitzer was the professor that oversaw the initial Remnants of Genocide Seminar, and also orchestrated the students’ trip to New York City. “He kept his promise he gave to the students,” she said.
"I’m extremely honored that he's coming here to speak to us,” said senior Catherine Floyd, a student at Shenandoah University majoring in mass communications, and minoring in political science. “I personally view it as a huge deal, and I really hope that students listen, pay attention and hear what he has to say.”
Floyd isn’t the only student interested in Dieng’s message.
“Say I start talking about the Rwandan Genocide [in my classes],” stared International Affairs Professor Erik K. Leonard, “and we start talking about how everyone in the world knew this was going to happen. The U.N. knew, the U.S. knew, France, Belgium – all powers had knowledge that this was about to occur. And yet they sat on their hands for 100 days, and 800,000 people died,” continued Leonard.
“I bring this information to my classes and they all look thoroughly stunned. How could this happen? How could we just sit back and nobody do anything about this,” he ended.
“I was particularly impressed that a highly regarded U.N. official special adviser was coming to Shenandoah University”, said Joaquin Gonzales, a senior at Shenandoah majoring in criminal justice and political science.
Other students are excited to meet a professional in the field they’ve been studying.
“You can talk about something in class with your professor over, and over. But when you get someone who studies, lives and breathes in that field, day in and day out, I think it’s beneficial for everyone,” said Nolan Overby, a junior at Shenandoah majoring in criminal justice and political science, minoring in business administration and also plays baseball for The Hornets.
Dieng's message to students was this:
"Human beings are the most cherished creation of god. Therefore, we need to look like god. In other words, we need to be love, to be peace, to be truth,” he said.