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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

New minor launches, honors Holocaust survivor

James Waller gives a speech about the new Holocaust and Genocide Studies minor on Thursday, Oct. 17 // Photo by Eva Bryner

By Eva Bryner

The new Holocaust and genocide studies minor has officially launched, making Western the first public university in Washington to provide such a program. 

The official launch took place Thursday, Oct. 17, in the Western Libraries Reading Room and acknowledged the life and legacy of Holocaust survivor Noémi Ban. The event hosted a presentation from James Waller, Holocaust and genocide studies professor at Keene State College.

“Why does this minor matter so much?” Waller said. “Why does the work of Noémi matter so much? It matters because we have not done well at making ‘never again’ a reality.” 

The minor was developed by Western faculty with help from the Ray Wolpow Institute (RWI) for the study of the Holocaust, genocide and crimes against humanity.

Students of any major can declare the minor.

From left, James Waller speaks with students Dylon Carroll and Evan Stern on Thursday, Oct. 17. // Photo by Eva Bryner

Students who declare will study topics from multiple disciplines to understand complex events and work toward their prevention, according to the RWI.

“I think it’s important, as Waller talked about tonight, that each individual person does their part to make a change,” Lauren Waldron, a first-year Western student, said. 

The minor is 24-25 credits and includes classes such as Tribal Sovereignty and Washington History, as well as Holocaust Representations in German Literature. 

“I think Holocaust and genocide studies at its best invites people into the process of change,” Waller said. “There are no qualifications. You’re invited into the process of change because you’re human, and when you come into that process of change there is nothing too small that you can do.”

Seven students have declared a Holocaust and genocide studies minor as of Oct. 17, Sandra Alfers, director of the RWI, said.

The introduction of this new minor comes after Washington state passed SSB 5612 in July 2019, a bill that “strongly encourages” the instruction of Holocaust and genocide studies in elementary, middle and high school curriculum, according to Washington State Legislature website.

“Until now, Western has neither addressed nor served this state need,” Alfers said. “This is particularly disconcerting since we lead all public institutions and graduating students with the endorsement to teach social studies in secondary schools. With this new minor, Western is clearly starting to address state needs.”

Alongside commemoration of the new minor, many people joined in remembering the life of Noémi Ban, a Holocaust survivor with a legacy of sharing her life experiences with many generations. Ban died in the spring of 2019 at the age of 96.

Sandra Alfers welcomes attendees on Thursday, Oct. 17. // Photo by Eva Bryner

“As we celebrate the minor’s launch and host our first and only event this fall, it is therefore only natural to honor Noémi’s legacy at our university,” Alfers said.

Ban worked with Western for 30 years and frequently gave talks at the university. She was influential in creating many programs and institutes, including the RWI and Holocaust and genocide studies minor.

Ban also received an honorary doctorate from Western in 2013. 

“Getting to know Noémi better over the past three years had been a great privilege,” Western President Sabah Randhawa said. “She translated the poison of hatred into love and compassion.”

Photos of Ban ran through the projector, showing the crowd the many times she shared her story. Images of her speaking in university halls, greeting middle schoolers and her many thank you cards from classes in elementary schools were displayed on the projector. 

“I can’t imagine [Ban] would be anything but thrilled in seeing what Western Washington has pulled together with this new Holocaust and Genocide studies minor,” Waller said. “Her spirit, her message and her work lives on in the incredible work that people are going to be doing here for generations.”

A recording of Ban played, and her words echoed through the room. 

“Hate destroys the person who hates,” Ban said. “I don’t hate, because I want to be free. And I am free.”


  1. Wonderful article, I am so please to hear this important programis being launched. Thank you for reporting on this.
    Sheryn Cohen


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