From Bosnia to KSC, judge Patricia Whalen joins the faculty
Keene State College is set apart from other schools in many ways; one being that there is no other college in the country that offers Holocaust and Genocide Studies as a major. The Holocaust and Genocide Studies program’s newest class this semester is taught by judge Patricia Whalen, who previously presided over trials of international war crimes.
The International Law and Genocide class, “examines the complex relationship that exists between the act of genocide and the legal requirements necessary to determine the crime of genocide under international laws,” Whalen stated.
Whalen said the backdrop to the course focuses on the conflicts of Bosnia. “We’re talking a lot about that particular conflict and the legal issues in that conflict as well as other models of justice and issues of transitional justice,” Whalen said.
Whalen said her hope is to influence the students with a practitioners approach. “I view myself as talking about the practicalities of the education of justice,” Whalen explained.
“The students who are taking this course are already quite knowledgeable about the issues we talk about. They already chose to study an issue that many other people choose to ignore. They interest me, you know? I’m interested in the people who are sitting in that classroom,” Whalen stated.
Whalen said the world of international law is changing. Therefore, she is looking to students to contribute to the progress of law in the future. Whalen stated she thinks that this is what some students at KSC are interested in doing.
“I think teaching is all about the future; teaching’s all about hope. And you must trust the future. When you’re in the presence of students, you know you’re in the presence of the future,” Whalen said.
Whalen said the fact that 24 KSC students signed up to take a course, which looks at legal issues of genocide, indicates a hopeful step forward in trying to understand human atrocities.
“We’re at about thirty-five majors for HGS,” Paul Vincent, holocaust and genocide studies professor and chair said.
Vincent said he thinks the biggest impact the HGS Department at KSC would hope for, academically, is that a mix of students will have something to show on their transcript that will get attention. Vincent said the department has socially committed students, whether they’re interested in joining the Peace Corps, or whatever it may be.
Vincent shared that these students think they can make a difference in the world where there are problems—and they can, he said. Vincent stated that classes like International Law and Genocide inspires the students to think globally.
“I think the class is helping me put my experience into perspective. You know, witnessing a genocide is traumatic. Sitting on trials is a form of witnessing. Everyone exposed to witnessing I believe has to internalize that and live with it,” current KSC faculty member judge Whalen said.
Whalen was an international judge in the War Crimes Chamber in the Court of Bosnia. Whalen’s responsibility was to try war crimes committed during the conflict, including crimes against humanity and genocide.
Whalen said she is still unsure how she will handle this area—coping with the past Bosnian genocide. She is no longer a sitting judge, but a special advisor to the court. Whalen said teaching students about issues that she is also training judges on is similar, but totally different at the same time, and that’s why she’s liking this experience.
Vincent said he finds Whalen unique. He said the KSC Honors program did a summer event in Bosnia and that is where they met her for the first time. Whalen said that some of the students who she met a few years ago are in the class, which is very exciting for her. Whalen said the students really impressed her at the time with the depth of understanding the issues.
Whalen shared, “I spent some time with the students and as a result of that, I received an invitation to teach. It’s interesting, it isn’t really what I do, but the students really had great discussions with me, and I thought ‘Wow this is worth pursuing.”
Johanna DeBari, sociology and HGS major at KSC, was one of the students who met Whalen on the trip to Bosnia in 2012.
DeBari said Whalen is amazing, patient and personable. “We’re very fortunate to have this opportunity. How often do you get to learn from a judge?” DeBari stated. DeBari shared that if she wasn’t graduating this year and if Whalen taught again, she would take another one of her classes.
Kristen Hunyadi, a KSC political science major, agreed with DeBari and said she would hope that Whalen would teach again. For Hunyadi the class is an elective. Hunyadi said she took this class because she was also a part of the summer trip to Bosnia. When she met Whalen she said the judge invited the students over her house and she thought she was really nice and had a lot of good things to say. “She definitely has some good stories,” Hunyadi said.
DeBari said she thinks the class is really interesting as it takes a new perspective on the studies done in the major. “It’s an awesome experience,” DeBari stated, because there are no other lawyers in the department.
Whalen explained that this was her first time teaching and that she would be here for the semester. Whalen shared that the students and herself are both in learning mode; but she has great respect already for the art of teaching.
Bethany Ricciardi can be contacted at email@example.com