Office ofAlumni and Constituent Relations


Legacies of the Shoah

This February, Pacific Lutheran University’s Wang Center for Global Education will be hosting its sixth biannual Wang Symposium entitled Legacies of the Shoah: Understanding Genocide, War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity.

“Shoah,” literally meaning “catastrophe” in Hebrew, is often used by Jewish communities in place of “Holocaust,” rejecting the latter term’s etymological connotation of “sacrifice.” With this lesser-known word choice, the symposium organizers hope to heighten awareness of the Shoah and stimulate a discussion about genocide and related atrocities.

Developed in collaboration with the PLU Holocaust and Genocide Studies program, which will be hosting its annual Powell-Heller Conference for Holocaust Education in March, Legacies of the Shoah poses the question: “Why do people degrade, exploit and exterminate others?”

As Executive Director of the Wang Center for Global Education, Tamara Williams leads the planning of the 2014 Wang Symposium. In her words, “The symposium gathers scholars, artists and practitioners to explore the human phenomena of genocide, of war crimes, and of crimes against humanity. It seeks a complex understanding of the logic and implications of these behaviors as well as the wellspring of human resilience, resistance, intellectual, and creative response that meet them at every turn.”


“Intellectual marathon”

The Wang Symposia, funded by generous donations by Peter and Grace Wang, the Benson Foundation, and the Norwegian Royal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, are designed to support the university’s goal to become more globally focused by bringing discussion of a specific international theme to the PLU campus every other year. Past symposia topics have included China: Bridges for a New Century, Norway’s Pathways to Peace, Advances in Global Health by Non-Governmental Organizations, Understanding the World though Sports and Recreation and Our Thirsty Planet – A look at Earth’s most precious resource.

The word “symposium,” now most commonly used in its contemporary definition of “a conference or meeting to discuss a particular subject,” originates from the Greek tradition of “a drinking party or convivial discussion, especially as held in ancient Greece after a banquet.”

In the ancient spirit of the symposium, Legacies of the Shoah will begin with a breakfast and Community Forum on Thursday, February 20th, at which attendees are encouraged to participate by sharing their personal knowledge and impressions of the symposium subject.  

Following this opening ritual, the symposium will proceed as what Dr. Williams refers to as an “intellectual marathon,” culminating on the evening of Friday, February 21st with a keynote by Jerry White, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations at the US Department of State and co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for his International Campaign to ban landmines.

Throughout the two-day symposium, other featured presenters include Dorothy Roberts, author of Fatal Intervention: How Science, Politics, and the Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-First Century, David Livingstone Smith, author of Less than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave and Exterminate Others, Jean Franco, author of Cruel Modernity, and Alex Hinton, author of Why Did They Kill? Cambodia in the Shadow of Genocide.

Alumni Speaker

Among the impressive line-up of symposium presenters is a recent PLU and Wang Center study away alumnus, Brian Erickson.

Erickson graduated from PLU in 2009 with a BA in Spanish and Global Studies with an emphasis on Development and Social Justice. While at PLU, he studied away for a semester in Oaxaca, Mexico through a Gateway program focused on “Development, Culture and Social Change.” After graduating, Erickson has worked with advocacy around US-Mexico border issues in a variety of institutions.

He now works as a Policy Advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico’s Regional Center for Border Rights (RCBR), in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where he testified before the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Human Rights. In this role, Erickson explains, he “supports the Center’s efforts to increase public scrutiny domestically and abroad of the United States’ failures to protect the basic rights of individuals in the context of border and immigration enforcement.”

Erickson’s presentation, “What our ‘Constitution-Light’ Border means for Communities, the United States and World: Militarization, Abuse and Impunity along the U.S.-Mexico Border,” will take place on Friday, February 21st at 3:15pm in the Anderson University Center Regency Room.


In addition to the attending the sessions on the 20th and 21st, PLU community members and guests are encouraged to participate in a variety of related activities on campus in the weeks prior to the symposium, including a Reading Group Challenge and Film Series. The Mortvedt Library and Scandinavian Cultural Center will also be hosting exhibitions in conjunction with Legacies of the Shoah.

All sessions of the Legacies of the Shoah Symposium are free and open to the public, though registration (using our online form) is highly encouraged. Please visit our website for more information about the schedule, presenters, activities, exhibitions and more.