Published April 21, 2021
Episode 14 of our podcast series is about the work of the Alison L. Des Forges Memorial Committee, and its international symposia held at the University at Buffalo. Beginning in 2012, each symposium has been annually sponsored, in part, by The Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy. This podcast features Roger Des Forges, the group's co-founder. He is joined in discussion with the committee co-chairs, Ellen Dussourd and Shaun Irlam. Together, they offer insight on aspects of sustaining the annual Alison Des Forges International Symposia on Human Rights and Social Justice. The ninth annual syposium takes place April 30, 2021. Learn more about the event, here.
Keywords: Human Rights, Social Justice, Des Forges, Rwanda, Africa, genocide, regime change, Covid-19, China.
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The Alison L. Des Forges Memorial Committee is dedicated to honoring the memory of Dr. Alison Liebhafsky Des Forges, an inspirational and tireless crusader for human rights and social justice around the world. The organization seeks to continue Alison’s quest to educate people about the injustices in the world and the part we all must play as members of an increasingly interdependent global community. Learn more.
Roger V. Des Forges, PhD, (AB, Public and International Affairs, Princeton 1964; PhD, Chinese History, Yale 1971) met Alison B. Liebhafsky at a high school Model United Nations. He majored in Public and International Affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University while she majored in European and African History in Radcliffe College at Harvard University. Upon graduation, they married, did their doctoral studies at Yale University, and conducted field and archival research in Rwanda and Taiwan. They taught History at Middlebury College and Yale before coming to Buffalo in 1972. Roger taught Chinese, Asian, and World History at the University at Buffalo for over four decades. Alison taught African History at several universities, including Beijing and Berkeley, and helped found the Bennett Park Montessori Center to promote the peaceful integration of Buffalo's public schools. In the 1990s, she volunteered at the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch and worked to protect human rights in Rwanda before, during, and after the genocide until her sudden and untimely death in 2009. Roger is proud that their offspring are carrying-on Alison's legacy by teaching and studying in Boston’s public schools and the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He is grateful to the all-volunteer members of the Memorial Committee, particularly its past and present officers, to generous donors to the endowment fund, and to the ALD Memorial Scholarship awardees for helping to keep alive Alison’s passion for defending human rights and advancing social justice.
Roger’s research is focused on issues such as rebellion and revolution, self and society, culture and politics, and myth and history in China. He is the author of three books, published by Yale, Stanford, and Brill, and is co-author and co-editor of three others published by SUNY, Cornell, and Berghahn Books. Roger has published several articles in Chinese and English proposing that Chinese History and Historiography developed in a spiral or helical pattern. In 2015 he retired from teaching and moved to Boston to be near his children and grandchildren. In 2019 Roger married Ellen Dussourd, who had recently retired after nearly two decades as Assistant Vice Provost and Director of International Scholar and Services, and was active in helping to internationalize the University.
Ellen Dussourd retired as Assistant Vice Provost and Director of International Student and Scholar Services at the University at Buffalo in 2018. Responsible for over 5,000 international students, her office provided immigration services, initial and on-going orientation programming, cultural programming and enrichment activities, and general support to the students, as well as ensured UB’s compliance with immigration regulations as they apply to international students. Before joining UB, Dussourd had a twenty-year career in Teaching English as a Second/Foreign Language, including: eight years as program director of Interlink Language Centers' intensive English program at Indiana State University; two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer TEFL teacher in Kousseri, Cameroon; and, two years as a Fulbright lecturer training future English teachers at the École Normale Supérieure in Nouakchott, Mauritania (République Islamique de la Mauritanie). She also participated in American Field Service’s U.S.-U.S.S.R. teachers’ exchange program and taught in an intensive, immersion program in Japan for business professionals headed for international assignments. Dussourd's academic degrees include: a BA, French (Georgetown University); a Master’s in Teaching French and English as a Second Language (School for International Training); and, a Master’s degree in International Management (American Graduate School for International Management, Thunderbird).
Shaun Irlam, PhD, grew up in Cape Town, South Africa and completed an MA at the University of CapeTown. He came to the United States in 1985 and received his PhD in Comparative Literature at the Humanities Center of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Irlam joined the Department of Comparative Literature at the University at Buffalo in 1993, and is currently the interim chair of the UB Department of Africana and American Studies. Since 2001 he has been director of a UB Study Abroad Program in Africa that take students to study in South Africa, Kenya and Rwanda each summer. His own research on the Rwandan genocide led to his acquaintance with Alison Des Forges in 2005. Irlam is a founding member of the Alison Des Forges Memorial Committee in 2010, and since 2014, has co-chaired the committee with Ellen Dussourd.