Ramzi Kaiss ’17 has never liked boundaries, and his research is ensuring that high school students nationwide dislike them, too.
A Mellon Fellow majoring in philosophy and international relations, Kaiss spent this past summer conducting research for the Boston-based global nonprofit, Facing History And Ourselves. The organization seeks to implement educational programs in U.S. high schools in order to raise awareness about genocide and the different actions, steps and structures that permit these atrocities to take place.
Interested in developing a new component on identity and immigration to augment the teaching of U.S. history, the organization asked Kaiss to help create it. In the process, Kaiss discovered that the genocide of Native Americans is often left out.
“Native American history isn't deeply explored in U.S. history classes,” Kaiss learned. “To me that didn't make sense; the genocide of Native Americans is the vastest genocide ever recorded in history. An estimated 100 million were killed across North and South America.”
So Kaiss got to work, spending hours researching every fact and figure he could find. He examined a range of materials for the organization, trying to help shed light on the systems and structures that led to the atrocity.
“I am hopeful that this research will help students understand the systematic killing of Native Americans, and how this system of oppression still continues to manifest itself today,” he said.
Facing History And Ourselves plans to pilot the new program in Boston-area schools first, but it could soon be an integral part of U.S. history classes on a national scale.
“It's pretty remarkable that you can get this sort of experience at Conn,” said Kaiss, who credits his faculty adviser, Tristan Borer, professor of government and international relations, and John Nugent, director of institutional research and planning, with opening the door to Facing History And Ourselves.
The nonprofit clearly found Kaiss’ passion and research skills impressive, as well, so much so that it asked him to tackle another research project, this time on the Holocaust.
“I specifically focused on the role of bystanders,” he said. “Once we accept or do nothing about the marginalization and dehumanization of others, we too become complicit in their oppression. This topic is especially relevant today with the refugee crisis and the continuous dehumanization they are subject to in the media. What does that say about our responsibility as bystanders?”
Now a junior, Kaiss is convinced that the student research he has been able to pursue as an undergraduate has taken his liberal arts education to a whole new level.
“I knew Conn would challenge me to break any pre-existing boundaries that could keep me from exploring the critical issues that shape my understanding of the world,” he said. “I was right.”