I am writing to express my gratitude for having granted me the Leizor Pinskier Memorial Travel Scholarship. The scholarship allowed me to take part in the Seeking Justice intensive study abroad unit, and the experience and insight gained during this study trip has been invaluable. It is one thing to study history and society from a more removed, academic perspective, but to see how these broad, universal concepts intersect with real peoples’ lives at a local level provides a much deeper and more engaging learning experience. Being in the places we were studying, and observing how ‘history’ still has such a powerful effect on present-day society inspired me to think about questions of temporality, can a society ever really be ‘post’-conflict, and if not, how best to keep moving forward in a relatively cohesive and harmonious way?
I am currently writing my honours thesis about the role of memorialisation in shaping an historical narrative, and the ways in which this history is then often used to justify and shape present-day events and politics. What we studied on the trip was not only relevant to my research, but inspired me to think critically about the balance between reconciliation and justice. One of the recurring themes on the trip was the ways in which social harmony, forgiveness, and reconciliation are often prioritised over reparations and persecution of perpetrators, and I have begun to think deeply about how best to balance these two aspects in a post-conflict society. In my thesis I am attempting to look at Australia’s own history of violence and injustice against our indigenous population, and studying in these other ‘post-conflict’ societies reminded me of the importance of acknowledging wrongdoing and incorporating these events into the official national narrative, if we want to have any hope of truly reconciling and moving forward as a united community. The ways in which history and how it is presented and memorialised impact the social and political realms of the present day was all too clear in both South Africa and Rwanda, in a way that would not have been nearly as apparent studying these situations from a classroom. This, to me, demonstrates the value of studying history, and the importance of critically analysing any historical narrative, especially those emanating from those in positions of power; one of the other members of our group wrote “this is a museum, question everything” at the top of her notebook, and this adage stuck with me throughout the trip.
On a more personal level, seeing firsthand what can ultimately happen when difference is viewed as a bad thing, and divisive and hateful rhetoric is allowed to thrive reminded me of the importance of speaking out against this kind of language and intolerance when I see it, as we so often do in the world today. In particular, learning in-depth the way certain groups are ‘othered’ and alienated, gradually dehumanised, and how tragic the ultimate outcome of this process can be made me think about the way politicians and the media talk about particular groups in our society today; in particular, Muslims, same-sex attracted people, and refugees came to mind as groups that are so often victims of this process of alienation and dehumanisation in contemporary Australia. In seeing how this process can develop, I was reminded that dehumanisation, and other processes that ultimately can lead to genocide or a situation like Apartheid, are often gradual, and of the importance of calling them out in their early stages.
Ultimately what I experienced and learnt on this trip reinforced to me that everyone is human, and the importance of finding a common humanity, where difference is not just tolerated but embraced, in order to prevent the dehumanisation and alienation that mark the start of what can become genocide or mass murder. I was left contemplating the importance of viewing each other as fellow humans, of listening to each other, particularly those who may not often be given a platform or a voice in an official narrative, and of trying to understand each other.
Thank you so much for granting me this scholarship; in enabling me to take part in this trip it has allowed me to gain so much, and provoked questions and ideas that will not soon be forgotten, and that I hope to pursue further in my future.