I felt inspired to send a letter to the University of Maine president about changing some general education requirements for the student body. Here is a slightly edited version of the letter I sent him last November. I do not hold out a lot of hope that my humble letter will change anything, but I wanted to express myself. I think that everyone who studies some of these tough topics such as genocide walks away a changed person and can feel motivated to make changes in their own behavior and to actively work more towards peace in their families and communities. If this letter helps even one person or convinces someone to study more on these challenging topics, it will have been worthwhile. :)
Glenn Cummings, President
Office of the President
46 University Drive
Augusta, ME 04330
I am writing this letter to express my desire and a suggestion for a uniform change to the general education requirements to all academic degree programs that are facilitated by the University of Maine at Augusta. The change that I am advocating for is an addition of a modern day genocide class to the general requirements for graduation.
One of the important reasons for attending college and for the achievement of getting a degree isn’t just the ability to get a good job and achieve financial success/ security, but is for the ability to become better human beings and individuals in our families and the world around us. It is with this belief in mind that universities and the faculty who design courses and degree programs select many general education requirements for a student to successfully complete if they wish to leave the school as alumni with a degree in their hand and its knowledge in their heads. Among the topics that can be found in all degree programs are mathematics, writing and literary competency, humanities, applied sciences as well as social sciences and more. These ‘core’ classes are justified in degree programs to give studies an education that will help them in all aspects of their lives besides their core focus of study. For instance, students study humanity classes because through the exploration of the topics enclosed inside that label, a student learns to think more critically, to reason and ask questions, and to open their mind to more creative thought processes. In the study of humanities, we learn about other cultures and in doing so, we learn more about our own cultures. When a student studies a foreign language, they learn respect and an understanding of the relationship between language, culture and human nature as well as develop more flexibility in their thinking and behavior towards others. Mathematics is taught so that even students like myself who struggle to understand it and its relevance in their personal lives can recognize that it plays a vital, constant role in many aspects of their life and is a universal part of every human culture known. Science is considered vital because it demonstrates to every individual how the world, the universe, how our bodies work and how we are all connected with all other life. The study of science forces us to question, to not take blanket statements at face value, to require some validation before belief, and to recognize that failure is not an end in itself, but just parts of the journey to success.
All of these requirements are very important and necessary and I do not wish to take anything away from their importance by suggesting an addition. However, I truly believe that the addition of a required genocide class would be an important and innovative change to the general education requirements. Many modern day studies and the work of historians tell us that genocide is usually carefully planned. As long as the majority of individuals in every country believe that the act of genocide is an aberration and cannot believe that human beings for the most part really will not only commit genocide, but implicitly ignore it when it happens around them, the human race will never be able to prevent it. It is only by understanding and recognizing that genocide is truly preventable and will happen even where we live can people not only recognize it in its beginnings but also feel empowered to take action to prevent and if necessary, stop it. The University of Maine- Augusta is optimally place to set the standard and show the state and the country the example it should follow. As home to the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine as well as some faculty who have intensely studied the subject, these institution has a unique and enviable place in this regard.
I recognize that a suggestion from one student may not make a permanent change in the graduation requirements, but I also know that I must try. I also know that I have completed over a dozen history classes and, with the exception of the Holocaust, those classes have skirted passed though uncomfortable parts of our past as well as the world's. While history will help us better understand the past and maybe give us better insight into the future, it cannot if we ignore or do not discuss the worst that we can be. I respectfully ask that the presiding faculty of the University of Maine- Augusta continues its policy of leadership and make the necessary changes to the general education requirements of future UMA Students. Thank you for your time and consideration to my request.