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January 9, 2014

SUCO hosting Sunday talk on courage

Conway studied genocide in Rwanda, Bosnia

By Meghan McCaffrey Contributing Writer
Cooperstown Crier

---- — What makes a person courageous in times of strife? That is a question that Paul Conway, State University College at Oneonta professor emeritus and political scientist, has been trying to answer for decades. 

Conway will discuss stories and research of courageous rescuers during periods of genocide in the 20th century at 3 p.m. on Sunday. This talk is part of the Friends of the Village Library Sunday afternoon series held in the meeting room in the Cooperstown Library building and is open to the public.

Hilda Wilcox, the Chairperson of the Sunday Afternoon Programs of the Friends of the Village Library said, “This is an organization that I founded not only to help support the library but also to bring attention to some of the valuable people in our community.” 

The Friends of the Village Library was started in the 1970’s and has been hosting monthly programs in September through April since then.

Wilcox was formerly a professor at SUCO where she was first introduced to Conway and his work.

She said that he would send students to her to learn more about writing.

“He really wanted to do something to see that students were helped so that they could possibly do something in the field of political science or in any field,” Wilcox said.

Wilcox said that Conway taught political science courses for 40 years at SUCO. His courses generally revolved around international politics and war.

“While teaching courses on international relations genocide became more and more of an important topic,” Conway said. “I began teaching about the holocaust and the civil rights movement and the injustices and suffering that these people faced.”

While teaching, Conway said he was moved by the courage some rescuers showed during times of great peril.

Conway said he found that the stories of heroism among the very people who were perpetrating the violence against others to be the most compelling. Not only were these stories motivational and inspirational; they helped to heal some of the wounds of nations torn apart by genocide.

“After the genocide happens, many people who have hatred and prejudice toward those who are associated with the genocide,” Conway said. “But, after they hear some of these stories of courage, maybe they are less likely to perpetuate the cycle of violence in those communities.” 

During his sabbaticals, Conway went to Rwanda and Bosnia, conducted interviews and studied the records from the 1994 genocide. He gathered stories about the people who were rescuers, he said.

Conway said that there are some patterns in societies where genocides happen.

“People are marginalized because of ethnicity, race, religion and are stereotyped and vilified in the communities they live in,” he said. “This leads to isolation of a particular group followed by the subsequent attempted destruction of that group.” 

Conway found that in researching and teaching courses about genocide, he had many questions about genocide and courage that he wanted to answer.

“Can we teach ourselves that courage is important?” Conway asked in one of his papers.

“You really have to make a conscious effort to try to do the right thing and face danger even if it means that you might lose your job or lose your position in society,” he continued.

“(Conway is) talking about courage because he himself, in his own quiet way, is courageous,” Wilcox said.

For more information about the upcoming discussion at the Cooperstown Library or future Sunday afternoon programs go to the Friends of the Village Library website, http://www.villagelibraryofcooperstown.org/friends.html.