Inspiring Out-of-the-box Thinkers at 1st Undergraduate Retreat

Participants of the USC Institute of Armenian Studies Undergraduate Retreat.
Participants of the USC Institute of Armenian Studies Undergraduate Retreat.

Participants of the USC Institute of Armenian Studies Undergraduate Retreat.

HOLLYWOOD – The Undergraduate Retreat was held over Martin Luther King weekend with the purpose of exploring and encouraging innovative, out-of-the-box, disruptive thinking about Armenians in the 21st century. The three-day retreat accepted students whose applications included challenging, provocative, thoughtful questions.

“Beyond challenging students to challenge themselves and think deeper, the other purpose of the retreat was to identify those areas of research that the Institute can promote (with donor support) and that students themselves would like to tackle.  We succeeded, as the students themselves will attest,” said Salpi Ghazarian, Director of the Institute of Armenian Studies at USC.

Twenty-five undergraduate students were chosen from 15 universities throughout the United States and Canada. Discussions were led by young scholars with backgrounds in political science, economics linguistics and history.

The Retreat was organized around three sessions, each focusing on one aspect of the contemporary Armenian world. The Republic of Armenia session was led by Prof. Anna Ohanyan of Stonehill College in Massachusetts, Dr. Karena Avedissian, Fellow of the Institute at USC, and Babken Dergrigorian, doctoral candidate in Political Economics. Discussions about the Post-Genocide period were led by Salpi Ghazarian, director of the USC Institute of Armenian Studies. The Diaspora session, perhaps the most diverse in its content, was led by Prof Shushan Karapetian of UCLA. Students were encouraged to ask questions. Even as they expressed opinions, they were challenged to question the assumptions underlying those opinions.  As a result, they shared insights, challenged their own views, and engaged in constructive debate about expectations, identity, community roles, individual responsibility and more.

While some students have been tackling big picture questions about and within the community for many years, others found a new voice in the facilitated discussions held during the retreat.  The participating students are now part of a growing network of thought-leaders who aspire to become change-makers.

The fourth and concluding session of the retreat produced the weekend’s outcomes. Students were divided into three groups and challenged to identify the questions they believe are the critical ones facing the Armenian nation in the 21st Century. The Institute of Armenian Studies will explore the questions, work to formulate them in ways that can in fact be transformed into research projects.

Below is a sampling of the student-generated questions in which the students have shown interest. These and other questions will be announced soon, to seek researchers.

Republic of Armenia

  1. How has the influx of Syrian-Armenian refugees affected the social, economic, and political fabric of Armenia?
  1. What constitutional model needs to be implemented to reform Armenia from a space riddled with corruption to a democracy that serves the interests of its people?
  1. How can foreign investment be the solution? How can Armenia be branded differently to raise interest in foreign investment?
  1. What role do different levels of Diasporan commitment to Armenia or NKR play in the development of the republic? (NGO’s, volunteer opportunities, charities, “repatriates,” and other institutions)
  1. What are the comparisons between Mexican and Armenian labor migrants, the remittances they send back and migration patterns?

Post-Genocide Identity

  1. Where does the pressure to marry other Armenians come from? Is it a result of post-genocide identity or no?
  1. What is the best way to teach genocide in K-12 in the diaspora and in Armenia? How to teach trauma without traumatizing but also without watering down or augmenting history.
  1. What are the effects of violence against women (sexual assault, gendered violence, and child brides) and the psyche/mental health of these women, their children, grandchildren, great grandchildren?

Diaspora

  1. Perceptions of Armenian transnationalism in Yerevan, Armenia: How do Armenians living in Armenia identify themselves in relation to Diaspora communities?
  1. Do repatriates have an influence on economic growth in Armenia? Are their similar cases in other diaspora communities?
  1. How to measure levels of assimilation, if any, in various Armenian communities in the U.S.?
  1. Exploratory study on ministries of Diasporas: How/if is the Armenian ministry of Diaspora effective compared to other ministries of diasporas
  1. What is it that allows members of diasporas to feel an immediate connection to others of the same ethnicity in the diaspora?

Universities Represented:

Cal State Northridge

Columbia University

Duke University

University of Toronto

Pasadena City College

Pierce College

Rutgers University

Tufts University

Northeastern University

Claremont McKenna College

University of California, Irvine

University of California, Santa Cruz

University of California, Los Angeles

University of Southern California

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Established in 2005, the USC Institute of Armenian Studies supports multidisciplinary scholarship to re-define, explore and study the complex issues that make up the contemporary Armenian experience – from post-Genocide to the developing Republic of Armenia to the evolving Diaspora. The Institute encourages research, publications and public service, and promotes links among the global academic and Armenian communities.

For information:

3501 Trousdale Parkway

Mark Taper Hall of Humanities (THH 308)

Los Angeles, CA 90089-4355

213.821.3943

armenian@usc.edu

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