When I tell my fellow USC students that I’m the president of an organization called SFISA, it’s usually safe to assume that 90% of them have no idea what it is.
It’s not the most elegant of acronyms and we acknowledge this. Our club’s full name – the Shoah Foundation Institute Student Association – is equally as unwieldy but at least it’s descriptive, and that’s something, right?
But even if they’ve heard of our less than stellar name, they still might not know who we are or what we do. So let me take this moment to enlighten you.
SFISA is a group of students who are connected to the USC Shoah Foundation in some way and are passionate about furthering the Institute’s mission on campus. It was founded two years ago by USC Shoah Foundation intern Orli Robin, with Dan Leshem, USC Shoah Foundation associate director of research, serving as the faculty advisor and spiritual adviser.
The original idea behind the club was to find better ways of connecting the Institute to the student body. It is unfortunate how few USC students are aware that they have the incredible resources of the Visual History Archive at their fingertips or even that the USC Shoah Foundation exists. The creation of SFISA was an attempt to remedy this regrettable reality.
This year, SFISA’s founding leadership was ready to pass the torch and several of my colleagues and I stepped in to take the reins. We were ripe for recruitment, having recently returned from the USC Dornsife’s summer program Problems Without Passports trip to Rwanda.
After spending two weeks in Rwanda studying post-genocide reconstruction and meeting some of the strongest and inspiring individuals I have ever had the privilege of knowing, I found myself wanting to turn those indescribable experiences into something concrete.
I didn’t want to come home, move on and eventually forget. Rwanda inspired me and I wanted to take that inspiration and do something for Rwanda in return.
So as the new, entirely inexperienced leaders of a fledgling club with a nebulous mission statement we decided to use SFISA to focus on an issue we were already passionate about.
April 2014 will mark the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. We felt that if we could create something on our campus to commemorate the victims and honor the survivors of this tragedy - something to get USC students thinking about Rwanda, genocide and the world’s ongoing human rights crises.
We have begun creating plans for a series of Rwandan genocide commemoration events to take place in April on the USC campus. We reached out to potential allies and were delighted to discover that we were far from the only students on campus who are concerned about these issues. Other student groups were already planning their own genocide awareness events in April. We decided that the best way to reach the greatest number of students with our shared message was to combine forces.
From there, our humble plans for a week of Rwandan genocide commemoration events turned into a full-fledged Genocide Awareness Month. Our Rwanda-centric events will now be part of a varied slate of events spread throughout the month of April, with at least half a dozen student organizations participating.
So at the end of next semester, many students may still not know the name SFISA. But it is my hope that they will have heard of Genocide Awareness Month. If our efforts to inspire students to give even five minutes of their time to thinking about countries like Rwanda, whose plight may seem distant but whose suffering is our own, I will consider that a success.