New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan was on Keene State College campus Wednesday, Sept. 3, to sign House Bill 1444, which recognized April as Genocide Awareness Month in the state of New Hampshire.
Hassan was joined by several Holocaust survivors, students, faculty and N.H. state representatives to usher in this historical moment for both KSC and the state of New Hampshire; which is now the fourth state in the nation to implement the bill.
Hassan thanked many of those in attendance for their support on the bill and recognized KSC for its achievements in Holocaust and Genocide studies. As the daughter of a World War II veteran herself, Hassan spoke with steady composure while highlighting how far society has come in the past decades and the direct impact it has held on her own family’s life.
With the subject of unfair discrimination in the air, Hassan opened up to share the story of her twenty-six-year-old son, Ben, who has very severe physical disabilities. She noted that although her son may appear to be different on the outside, he understands everything going on around him.
“But it would have been easy,” Hassan said, “and it used to be easy, for people to assume that Ben was somehow less than human, because he couldn’t speak. To assume that he had no mental capacity, because he didn’t physically appear like everybody else.”
“Two generations ago or so, Ben would have been placed in an institution. But because of the work of families that came before my family and advocates that stood with him, Ben went off to school when he was three in his hometown of Exeter, where he made friends and he had a chance to learn,” Hassan said.
But how did all of this relate to a genocide awareness month, Hassan asked?
“It has to do with the fact that Americans stand for recognizing the common humanity in each and every one of us. We stand for the concept in each generation, we will include people who have previously been marginalized and we will bring them into the heart and soul of our democracy and our communities, and when we do that, everybody thrives; our economy gets stronger, our democracy gets stronger,” Hassan answered.
Senator Molly Kelly, who is also a KSC Alumna and a major supporter in the passing of this bill, was equally as eager to join Hassan to recognize the bill, recalling stories from her youth told by her own father, also a World War II veteran.
“I remember hearing it as a young child and I remember turning to him one day and saying, ‘How can people treat each other that way? I just don’t understand.’ He looked at me and he said, ‘You’re right, I don’t know. But that’s the responsibility that we have as we come to work every day of our life for the rest of our life—to make sure that never happens again,’” Kelly said.
Kelly joined the rest of the speakers in their admiration for the change that has occurred throughout the past century and the surrealism this bill holds.
“It has been a progression and it’s pretty incredible that we are here today to sign a bill that we’ll remember, and to teach the state of New Hampshire and focus on the month of April when we will all come together, and we will work hard and we will look at what’s happening today, and possibly we can prevent these kinds of holocausts and genocides from happening in the future,” Kelly said.
The bill, which was signed in the campus’ Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, was brought to the senate in the beginning of the year by two of KSC’s students, juniors and Holocaust and Genocide Studies majors Katherine Marren and Charlotte Meyers.
Meyers described how she and Marren got started on the project, first meeting and teaming up their freshmen year. “We were both freshmen in Dr. Waller’s entry-level genocide course and he kind of snowballed ideas at the end of the semester about what we could do to impact genocide in our own daily lives. So, we talked with each other and took it upon ourselves to arrange a meeting with him the following fall, and he was overjoyed; he loved the idea,” Meyers said.
This led Marren and Meyers to team up with KSC Adjunct Professor and N.H. State Representative Cynthia Chase, who had already begun to make moves in a similar direction.
Chase described the journey as a team effort, saying, “There’s an office of legislative services at the State House—if you’re a representative and you have an idea for a bill, you go to them and they draft it. They sit down and talk to you; you tell them what you wanted, I told them how I thought it should go, and they drafted the bill.”
Chase continued, “These kids were able to go before the Senate and testify with Senator Kelly. It’s a two step process: the House and then to the Senate, and then to the governor’s signature.”
“We know we want to make a difference in the field and this is kind of a way to put our foot in the door. This is what it feels like to actually be players in it,” Marren said.
Hassan almost directly spoke to Meyers and Marren as she concluded, “So, to our students who had the foresight to help craft this bill and decide that it should become law in the state of N.H.—you are part of that new commitment of Americans. To stand up for each other, to stand up with each other, and to always stand up for the concept that we all count, and that we are all a part of a much greater poll. And that’s what being human really means.”
Alexa Ondreicka can be contacted at email@example.com