In a celebration April 10th at the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum, CMC’s Center for Human Rights was renamed the Mgrublian Center for Human Rights in honor of Margaret Mgrublian P’11 and David Mgrublian ’82, P’11, in recognition of their generous donation to the Center.
The program included remarks by CMC President Hiram Chodosh and Wendy Lower, John K. Roth Professor of History and George R. Roberts Fellow and Director of the Mgrublian Center. Others in attendance who represented the sense of leadership continuity always at the forefront of College events were President Emeritus Jack Stark, as well as President Emerita Pamela Gann.
In acknowledging the importance of the gift, President Chodosh said: “Tonight we enter the world of the Rapoports in Texas, the Kennedys at Harvard, the Pozens in Chicago and the Carters in Atlanta, as we seek here to build the very best global undergraduate program in human rights.”
John Roth, Edward J. Sexton Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus and Founding Director of the newly-renamed Mgrublian Center gave the keynote address. In addition, a video filled with tributes about the Center and its work was shown at the celebration.
“The Mgrublian family gift is a tipping point; a turning point and a horizon-raising moment for the Center and for the College,” Professor Roth said. “The gift will be programmed into channels that will affect students in terms of their values, their passion and commitment.”
To John V. Croul Professor of European History, Jonathan Petropoulos (who was the founding associate director of the Center and then succeeded Prof. Roth as director in 2007), the gift is a “game-changer” that will expose students via internships to human rights “on the ground” and it will become part of their lives as they become leaders in society.
The Mgrublian Center is “the conscience of CMC,” Prof. Petropoulos said.
The Center, which grew out of the teachings of Professor Roth on the Holocaust in the early 1970s, has had a couple of name changes since it was launched in 2003 as the Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights. In 2009, the Center’s name was changed to The Center for Human Rights Leadership.
Distinguished leaders in the Center’s history, include founding donor Leigh Crawford ’94; Professor Roth, who served through 2006; Prof. Petropoulos; Professor Edward Haley, who directed the Center from 2008 to 2014; and current director Prof. Lower.
Since its inception, the Center has pursued its mission to advance teaching and study of the Holocaust, genocide and human rights history. Its programs of teaching, visiting scholars, academic travel, internships, and community service have enabled students to understand the causes and legacy of the Holocaust (and other genocide) and to develop the ethical commitments and leadership qualities necessary to prevent and overcome human rights abuses in today’s world.
“When others hurt us, hurt us deeply, we have two choices,” President Chodosh said. “We can exact pain in return and prolong a cycle of violence. Or we can pivot from that pain to make sure that neither others nor we ever do this again.”
The Center's human rights initiatives include a role in founding and developing Students Against Genocide, a nation-wide effort aimed at stopping genocide in Darfur, Sudan, and a mission to provide relief to residents of New Orleans following the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina. Other initiatives supported by the Center include summer human rights internships for students, the Center’s student-led Human Rights Task Forces, and funding for student-faculty research, visiting scholars, and speakers.
“The Internship program is probably the one program that has helped develop the Center’s very positive reputation on campus,” Professor Lower said in her video remarks. “Student interns are working with women in South America and Argentina – meeting with women in rural communities and discussing with them their rights. They’re also working with solar energy companies, installing solar energy panels in communities that have been destroyed by natural disasters.”
In his remarks, Mr. Mgrublian, who is of Armenian heritage and who currently serves as chair of CMC’s Board of Trustees, said that it was significant that his family’s gift to the Center was occurring a couple of weeks before the annual date (April 24th) on which the Armenian Genocide is remembered.
“What you may not know is that on that day exactly 100 years ago, Ottoman authorities rounded up 250 Armenians in Istanbul who they felt posed the greatest threats to their plans to perpetrate a mass extermination,” Mr. Mgrublian said. “And who were these 250 Armenians? They were Istanbul’s Armenian intellectuals and leaders in business, government and the professions.
“This a common pattern at the beginning of genocides or other mass violations of human rights,” he cautioned. “Round up the intellectuals. Round up the leaders. In short, round up the people sitting in this room.”
Mr. Mgrublian intoned that often quoted phrase: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” And with that acknowledgement comes great responsibility.
“At CMC we believe we have a responsibility to lead,” he said. “We have faculty who are leaders in their intellectual disciplines. We have administrators who are leaders in their fields. We have students who lead on campus and become alumni leaders in business, government, and the professions. Yes, it makes us a target, but more importantly it confers on us a great obligation.”
Mr. Mgrublian said that his family couldn’t think of a better way to honor that obligation and the memory of their ancestors who perished in the Armenian Genocide than by supporting CMC’s Center for Human Rights.
“By instilling in our students an understanding of human rights as central to moral conduct and ethical decisions in their personal lives, in their careers, and in the public arena, we are sending our students into the world to do something about it.”
President Chodosh asked attendees to think for a minute about the historic significance that Mr. Mgrublian referenced in his remarks.
“The Mgrublians pivot once more,” President Chodosh said, “from the senseless loss of their history, their ancestry, their civilization, to rebuild, to reforest, to reeducate, to remoralize, and here at CMC to re-energize, to re-member, to restore conscience and justice in the world and to weave human rights into the ethical fiber of our CMC experience.
“Think of how each of us is now called to this challenge,” he added, “to follow the Mgrublian example, to understand, to act and move together with greater urgency: not to wait for history to bend toward justice, but instead, to steer the future to justice.”
Quoting the philosopher Philip Hallie, Professor Roth added that “moral beauty” happens “when someone carves out a place for compassion in a largely ruthless universe.”
“Margaret and David Mgrublian and their family have done just that,” he said. “May our grateful response to their gift be steadfast commitment to ensure that the Mgrublian Center for Human Rights at CMC remains the oppression-resisting, hope-sustaining, death-defying, life-giving and joy-creating place that it must always be.”