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Communication Studies: Reflections from Rwanda

When Dr. Eric Aoki, Associate Professor in Communication Studies at CSU, watched the horrors of genocide in Rwanda unfold on the evening news in 1994, he had no idea that nearly 20 years later he would be standing on the very ground where this gruesome massacre took place.

In early January 2012, Dr. Aoki traveled to the city of Kigali, Rwanda to present research at the Conflict, Memory, and Reconciliation: Bridging past, present, and future symposium presented by the School for International Training (SIT). In collaboration with co-author Kyle Jonas, MA, Aoki presented a paper on “Mureithi’s ICYIZERE: hope: Reconciliation, Re-Humanization, and Collective Remembrance/Rebuilding of Sacred and Safe Space.”

The paper deals with a communication-based assessment of a documentary by Patrick Mureithi. The documentary records a 3-day reconciliation workshop and the communicative process between perpetrators of the violence and surviving victims of the genocide. Aoki and Jonas address how memory is negotiated in the film along with reconciliation activities and dialogues that are used in the workshops to move individuals toward re-humanization and reconciliation. “We wanted to explore how this re-humanization process is happening and what communication variables are involved in the healing,” says Aoki.

In addition to other presentations on the Rwanda genocide and other global conflicts and atrocities, Aoki and Jonas stayed at and attended the symposium which was held at the famous Hôtel des Mille Collines (Hotel Rwanda). They also visited the Kigali Memorial Centre, which opened on the 10th Anniversary of the genocide attacks in April 2004. As noted on the Centre website, the Centre is built on a site where over 250,000 people are buried as “a clear reminder of the cost of ignorance.”

“It is an intensely illuminating experience,” Aoki reflects. “After studying documented workshop behaviors of the survivors and perpetrators, learning from international scholars and local Rwandans in Kigali, and then actually being physically present in Rwanda, it has totally transformed the way I think and feel about the word ‘genocide.’”

Aoki notes the gravity of the situation is not unlike visiting the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.—“but this time you’re on the physical space—which can speak volumes into the experience.”

While intercultural communication and issues of cultural diversity and conflict have been a long-time pursuit and specialty of Aoki’s, he was inspired to further his research into the paper when Communication Studies MA alum, Kyle Jonas, initially wrote on the Rwanda documentary in Aoki’s graduate seminar after the documentarian, Mr. Mureithi, visited Aoki’s class. The natural progression of their collaboration, with the newly added symposium emphasis on memory studies and cultural space, took the pair to the symposia in Kigali where they now have a better idea how to further develop their research.

“I’m very thankful to CSU’s College of Liberal Arts and my department for supporting this career-transforming trip,” Aoki says. “In addition to meeting so many intercultural communication and global interdisciplinary scholars, I was able to immediately use this experience in the classroom upon my return to CSU—and will continue to do so.”

About the Symposium:

SIT Study Abroad and the SIT Graduate Institute, in partnership with the Center for Conflict Management at the National University of Rwanda, invited scholars and practitioners in the fields of memory, reconciliation, conflict transformation, peace and conflict studies, and human rights to attend an interdisciplinary symposium on Conflict, Memory, and Reconciliation: Bridging past, present, and future in Kigali, Rwanda, January 10-13, 2012.

About SIT:

A pioneer in experiential, field-based study abroad, SIT Study Abroad offers semester and summer programs in more than 40 countries in Asia and the Pacific, Africa, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East, focused on critical global issues with opportunities for undergraduate research.

SIT Graduate Institute offers internationally focused master’s degrees, certificates, and professional development programs in the fields of conflict transformation, international education, sustainable development, and TESOL. Founded over 40 years ago as a training center for early Peace Corps volunteers, SIT Graduate Institute’s flexible full-time and low-residency programs are based on an experiential learning model and a commitment to social justice and intercultural communication.

SIT prepares students to be interculturally effective leaders, professionals, and citizens. In so doing, SIT fosters a worldwide network of individuals and organizations committed to responsible global citizenship. SIT fulfills this mission with field-based academic study abroad programs for undergraduates and accredited master’s degrees and certificate programs for graduates and professionals.