Doctoral Student, Conflict Analysis and Resolution
Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences
A Quiet Warrior Fights for Peace
What combined forces would compel a young woman to travel alone to a country where rape and mass slaughter have resulted in the deaths of more than 300,000 people? That’s the question that lingers in the air when one meets NSU doctoral student Careen Hutchinson, who disregarded her own safety and journeyed more than 7,000 miles to learn about the genocide in Darfur. Hutchinson, who is currently enrolled in the Conflict Analysis and Resolution program at the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences (SHSS) and serves as president of the SHSS Student Association, has a petite appearance and soft-spoken manner that conceal the fierce conviction that drives her.
Hutchinson has always had an interest in the dynamics of conflict, but it was not until she saw the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda, which depicts the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, that she realized where her true passions lie.
Acting on impulse, Hutchinson called the Rwandan Embassy to see how she could contact Paul Rusesabagina, whose heroic actions were the subject of the movie. While she was not able to contact Rusesabagina, she did speak with the Rwandan Ambassador, who was eager to share information with her.
“He was glad that someone wanted to learn more about the genocide, and he was willing to come to campus and be part of a symposium about Rwanda,” she said.
Tapping into all of her resources, Hutchinson began a grassroots effort to organize a public forum to highlight the Rwandan conflict. Her efforts resulted in “Genocide in the 21st Century: Colloquium on Rwandan Genocide.” The forum, which boasted standing-room only, put human faces on the unspeakable atrocities by featuring two survivors of the mass killings, as well as Rwandan Ambassador Zac Nsenga, United Nations Representative Jose M. Da Silva Campino, and several NSU faculty members, who spoke in roundtable discussion.
The event received tremendous support from the NSU and local communities, and it lit such a fire in Hutchinson that when she heard about the rape of women and genocide in Darfur, she immediately began making plans to visit the region.
Hutchinson called her contacts from the conference and arranged travel to Sudan. Undaunted by feelings of uncertainty and the possible threat of violence, she traveled alone to Africa in the summer of 2007, and she stayed with a family in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan and of Khartoum State.
For her own safety, Hutchinson was not permitted into Darfur, but she talked about the conflict with Sudanese locals, journalists, scholars, and people who had fled from Darfur. After talking with some of the contacts, she began to understand how one’s self identification plays a role in societal conflicts.
Hutchinson discovered that the government controlled every aspect of its citizens’ lives and the lives of their guests. Although her movements were restricted and she was not allowed to speak with a class of university students, she still gathered valuable information and returned home with a renewed admiration for the United States.
“Going there gave me an appreciation of what we have here,” Hutchinson stated. “As an American citizen, I have faith that my government will protect me when I travel abroad. But, they do not have faith in the government. They have faith in their tribe. National identity is an American concept. In Sudan, people depend on their tribe.”
In addition to giving her significant insight into the culture of a nation in conflict and the minds of some of its people, the trip provided considerable substance for her academic interests. She hopes her scholarship leads to her long-term goal of working as a U.S. ambassador in an African nation.
When asked if she ever wants to return to Sudan, Hutchinson replied, “I would love to go back and get all of the success stories. Although there are terrible stories coming out of Darfur, there is a beauty in how we survive as human beings. I would love to report a few of the positive stories of hope and survival.”
If her tenacity and fearlessness are any indication, Careen Hutchinson may indeed one day make such a report.