A Spokane professor and author of a book on the psychology of genocide is one of 20 persons nationwide to receive a fellowship to build local awareness of global atrocities.
James Waller, dean of equity, diversity and special initiatives at Spokane Falls Community College, was chosen by the Genocide Intervention Network as a Carl Wilkens fellow, named for the Spokane native who was the only American known to remain in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide.
“The point of the program is to build a network of citizens to shape politics in regards to genocide,” Waller said of the fellowship.
Waller, a social psychologist specializing in the Holocaust and genocide studies, was formerly on the staff of Whitworth College. His book, “Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing,” is used in classrooms around the world.
He also is affiliated with the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation.
As a Wilkens fellow, Waller said he will have the opportunity to expand his scholarly interests in genocide into activism.
The fellowship recognizes community leaders who possess a commitment to fight genocide and provides them with the skills “to hold elected officials responsible for their actions to prevent and stop genocide,” according to the Genocide Intervention Network, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. Among the network’s goals is to divest public institutions of financial interests in companies that do business with repressive governments such as Sudan and Myanmar.
This is the first year of the Wilkens Fellowship. Recipients range from construction workers and stay-at-home mothers to lawyers and educators.
“Their stand-out quality is they are passionate and committed to ending genocide by making it a political issue in their communities,” said spokeswoman Janessa Goldbeck.
Wilkens, who has returned to live in Spokane, was director of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency in Kigali, Rwanda, when the African nation erupted in violence in 1994. After ensuring the escape of his wife and children, he remained behind to protect those he could from the genocide.
His actions have been credited with saving hundreds of lives. “So few people in America were aware of the Rwanda genocide at the time it was happening and even fewer were equipped to do something to end it,” Wilkens said.
He said he was honored to have the fellowship named for him and delighted that another Spokane resident was among the first to receive it.