Today is Shopping Day, when students can sample new course offerings.  The regular class schedule will kick off tomorrow and, before it does, Roxanne shares her observations on her first Fletcher semester.

Selecting courses for a new semester has always been one of my favorite times in the academic life cycle. Before I dive into the Spring 2013 course offerings at Fletcher, I would like to reflect on some of my favorite moments from my first semester.

As part of a group project to present on the conflict in Rwanda in the 1990s, I read Scott Straus’s The Order of Genocide.  Through interviews with convicted prisoners who confessed to their involvement in the Rwandan genocide, Straus sought to understand why individuals participate in acts of mass violence.  In an excerpt from the book, he articulated the question that guides his research in a way that deeply resonated with my own interests:
“I never expected to be in Zaire or Rwanda or to cover raw violence, but once I witnessed such events, I could not let go of them easily. Eventually my trauma formulated itself as an intellectual question: Why does violence of this magnitude happen?”

The causes of violence, as well as responses and strategies for prevention, were a recurrent motif in my studies this semester.  Another highlight, however, emerged out of my participation in a luncheon series on non-violent, rather than violent, conflict.  The International Security Studies Program (ISSP), in partnership with the International Center on Non-Violent Conflict, offered a series of luncheon lectures on civil resistance and non-violent movement formation.  The backgrounds of fellow participants in this series range from journalism and community organization, to veterans and PhD students.  As Jessica has written in the Admissions Blog many times, there are more events and luncheon series at Fletcher than one could possibly attend, and this program on Nonviolent Civil Resistance has been among my favorites.

Another series of events that created many cherished memories for me is Fletcher’s Cultural Nights.  These events showcase the many regions of the world from which students hail, through singing, dancing, musical performances — or even videos inspired by the various regions we are celebrating!  Along with nine of my friends, I performed in a Balkan dance medley on Mediterranean Night, showcasing a Greek, Bulgarian, Bosnian, and Turkish traditional dance.  Fiesta Latina was also full of warmth and laughter, and I am already looking forward to more of these cultural events next semester.

Student collaboration is not only a theme of how we celebrate and dance, but also how we learn and study. My study group for Peace Operations met every Tuesday to discuss the assigned reading for the class.  The group consisted of five first-year students who had met during orientation, decided to help one another navigate the extensive reading load, developed a template for taking notes, and organized review sessions for themselves before the midterm.  This was a perfect complement to learning inside the classroom, and was always something to look forward to in my calendar.  Admittedly, it is initially challenging to adapt to the coordination and compromise required to co-write group papers or divide the workload and responsibilities of group presentations — but I am beginning to enjoy this process, and I’m grateful for the many life lessons along the way.

When I reflect on the moment I first felt at home at Fletcher, I think of Professor Dyan Mazurana’s lecture during a Fletcher Global Women lunch event.  Professor Mazurana spoke about her work on gender and mass atrocities, retraced her path to her current endeavors, and shared the personal and professional challenges and rewards of being in this field.  I felt similarly exhilarated attending an event by the Boston Consortium on Gender, Security, and Human Rights, which featured Nadine Puechguirbal, the Senior Gender Adviser for the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and Cynthia Enloe, one of the leading thinkers on gender and international politics.  It is refreshing to leave the campus and experience Boston’s thriving academic and professional community.  Finally, no mention of my cherished memories of the semester would be complete without acknowledging the Fletcher Storytelling Forum, the project Katherine Conway-Gaffney and I co-created earlier this year.  Listening to my classmates’ experiences of home and away has made me grateful to belong in the Fletcher community.

All the books I borrowed from the various Boston libraries have now been returned to their shelves, and I am getting ready to browse the 2013 course offerings.  In the next two months, we can look forward to the legendary Fletcher Ski Trip, a concert by our favorite school band, Los Fletcheros, and the NYC and DC Career Trips.  Stay tuned for updates, and Happy New Year!

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