A collaborative effort of Ferris State University campus groups, and the ArtWorks nonprofit based in Big Rapids, has produced a schedule of events, beginning Sept. 22, and continuing into early October. They center on a campus visit from a Rwandan debate team, Oct. 3-4, and offer a broader perspective on the genocide of a million Tutsis in that African nation during the spring of 1994.
Kristi Scholten, an assistant professor of Humanities, said that Ferris’ Speech and Debate team, the Political Engagement Project and the Office of International Education have worked jointly to bring iDebate Rwanda to campus. The participants from Rwanda took part in interviews, and a rigorous review of their qualifications to be chosen as part of the 2016 iDebate Rwanda USA Tour, which presents a two-month schedule of university and high school visits across the U.S.
“We hope our students, and members of the public who join us for these events, gain a greater understanding of what the young people of Rwanda face as a nation,” Scholten said. “Sixty-one percent of Rwandans are under the age of 24. While they are the same age as many of our students, Rwandans face a vastly different societal structure.”
On Thursday, Sept. 22, “Sometime in April” will be shown at 7 p.m. in Room 211 of the University Center. Scholten said that this film will offer a historic perspective on the Rwandan genocide.
“It should set the stage in a more realistic fashion than ‘Hotel Rwanda’ so those who attend can understand what happened there,” Scholten said.
A Rwanda teach-in will be offered beginning at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 29, and will also be held in University Center, Room 211. Scholten said that Daniel Noren, a French professor in Ferris’ College of Arts and Sciences will speak on the historical and political elements of the genocide, as he was a child of missionaries, and traveled to Rwanda. The other presenter is Will Sartore, the university’s Study Abroad coordinator.
“Sartore will offer a talk on contemporary Rwandan life,” Scholten said. “The country is still trying to heal. Communities have had to welcome back perpetrators that once sought to destroy the Tutsis and, at the same time, they try to develop their economy and standard of living.”
The iDebate Rwanda team will arrive on Ferris’ campus on Sunday, Oct. 2, and Scholten said that there are opportunities to have this group visit classes during their time in Big Rapids. On Monday, Oct. 3 at 7 p.m., their team will join with the Ferris debate team in UCB 202, and address the topic, “Western countries should stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia.”
“The hope is to promote civil discourse, because it has the potential to ease controversy by means other than resorting to violence,” Scholten said. “Debate is a counterpoint to our world of technology and information, which promotes communications that are ill-informed and full of personal attacks.”
The final event on the schedule will present Rwandan culture in Photo, Essay, Song and Dance at ArtWorks in downtown Big Rapids. That mix of traditional music and dance, along with contemporary photography of life in Rwanda, and readings from “Voices of a Post-Genocide Generation” will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 4.
“We welcome students and members of the public to take the opportunity to learn about Rwandan culture from the inside,” Scholten said.
Anyone needing special accommodations to attend these activities should call (231)
591-2746 or email Scholten at least 72 hours prior to that event.
PHOTO CAPTION: Ferris State University and ArtWorks Big Rapids will welcome members of the iDebate Rwanda USA team beginning Sunday, Oct. 2. A series of events related to their visit begins Thursday, Sept. 22.