To strengthen their personal beliefs and understanding of Citizenship, one of our six Habits of Mind & Heart, Whitfield students examine and consider multiple perspectives. In our year-long Human Rights & Genocide course, seniors examine diverse cultural experiences of genocide and displacement in modern world history. Through readings and discussions, they examine and discuss the behavior and perspectives of perpetrators, victims, bystanders, and themselves as students, while seeking to understand the nature of these events and their significance.
This course’s capstone experience is the Mass Crimes Documentary Film Project. Working in small groups, students create documentary films, 12-20 minutes in length, focused on a specific mass crime in modern world history including genocides, ethnic cleansing campaigns, forced migrations, deportations, mass killings, kidnappings and exploitations.
“This course, specifically this project, gives students a pathway to study topics they care deeply about,” said Dr. Michal Kwiecień. “They pick their documentary topics because they feel they have a moral and ethical obligation to educate and to raise consciousness. It’s powerful to hear and see that these students have found their own voices and perspectives with these very difficult topics.”
Once topics are chosen, students conduct in-depth research utilizing primary and secondary sources. Each group submits a thoroughly researched, narrative script and storyboard for review before beginning their film.
To be successful, a film must meet several criteria including: a persuasive thesis, clear identification of the main historical actors, (victims, perpetrators, bystanders/witnesses), an explanation as to why the mass crime occurred, how the perpetrators justified it, and how the international community reacted or did not react to it.
In addition to the film, for the Mass Crimes Project students design a variety of artifacts, models of monuments, and commemoration sites. While addressing a current problem that continues to affect the survivors or descendants of a mass crime, these components created an opportunity for social studies students to practically apply technology.
One group identified the need for a museum in Nashville, TN that would commemorate the experiences of the Kurdish refugees who settled there after escaping the Al-Anfal genocide of Saddam Hussein. Ryan Dulick ’19 designed a prototype of the museum and printed it on a 3D printer.
Another group focused on the stories of two Holocaust survivors and examined how their identities, sexuality, and culture were used to victimize them. Bella Suffian ’19 created an app using Code.org App Lab that translates English words to Yiddish, the universal language used among pre-WWII Jewish communities. The prototype is an effort to unite and educate young people on a dying language central to Judaism.
Ashley Hastey, Whitfield’s instructional technology coordinator, helped guide students through the project design process and provided professional advice about storyboarding and script development. Lisa Barry Jenkins, assistant director of technology, worked with students using the 3D printer.
In sharing their perspectives, Emma Bradley ’19 and Maddy Connell ’19 emphasized the project’s relevance to our world today.
“This project was very important to my group and to me for many different reasons,” said Connell. “The generation of Holocaust survivors is coming to an end and we believe it’s essential to educate other generations by sharing their stories.”
“Learning about the topics of mass crimes and genocides gives us a better understanding of the world around us,” said Bradley. “There are people who live in fear of persecution because of their race, ethnicity, or religion. As Whitfield students, we are part of a safe community—that’s not the case for so many others.”
Each group presented their completed documentary to an audience of their peers, faculty and staff. In addition, the films were evaluated by a panel of faculty and six group-finalists (see below) were selected to present their projects at the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center at 6:30 PM on Thursday, May 9, 2019. The documentary exhibition is open to the public.
“Presenting at the museum is a unique honor and I feel privileged to share Thursday evening with a group of very talented, young scholars who have worked exceptionally hard to understand topics and events that elude rationality and full comprehension,” said Dr. Kwiecień. “I am particularly impressed with the Seniors’ commitment to using their documentaries as a vehicle to communicate a message of healing, acceptance, reconciliation, and genocide prevention.”
Documentaries Selected for Presentation at the St. Louis Holocaust Museum
The Forgotten Genocide of the Herero and the Nama
Annika Holland, Max Pugh, Clay Strege
An Indisputable Genocide: The Holodomor
Samantha Bolourtchi, Sean Boschert, Tajah Foster-Walker, Nia Griffin
Auschwitz-Birkenau: More Than A Statistic
Patrick Levitt, Sam Miller, Mick Santos, Jared Schmitt
The Holocaust: Never Forgotten
Emma Grace Bradley, Madison Connell, Tatiana Escandon, Bella Suffian
Controlled Chaos: Auschwitz-Birkenau, Chelmno, and Sobibor
Greg Eickhoff, Cameron Robinson, Vaggelis Vazos, Isabella Viviano
The Al-Anfal: Saddam Hussein’s Terror On The Kurdish People
Legend Alicea, Ryan Dulick, Sanjeevani Patankar, Sally Sneider