Contact: Cherie Yurco;
For immediate release — June 7, 2021
(DALLAS) — While the pandemic will be most remembered as a difficult time, it led to innovative ways to learn, communicate and collaborate. For Dallas College Honors student Jennifer Brantley, it brought the opportunity to study at
Hanze University of Applied Sciences in Groningen, Netherlands.
Brantley first heard about the “virtual exchange” through an email flyer from the
Dallas College Honors Program. The course,
“Pillars of Democracy,” would include digital workshops related to democracy, civic engagement and learning from the Holocaust. The aim is to apply lessons learned from World War II to present-day society and empower students to become effective citizens.
For Brantley, it was a perfect fit.
“World War II really interests me,” said Brantley, a member and volunteer at
Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum. “I think I’m kind of drawn to ‘how could this happen?’ and I want to make sure things like this don’t happen again. And that’s kind of the purpose of the course.”
Two years ago, she visited
The National WWII Museum in New Orleans, where she explored the causes and consequences of the war.
Brantley is working on an Associate of Science at the Richland Campus and plans to transfer to the University of Texas or Texas A&M to study public health with minors in philosophy and psychology. “I’m very interested in where the criminal justice system and health meet,” she said.
A part-time student, she will enter her sophomore year at Richland this fall and expects to graduate Fall 2022 or Spring 2023.
Brantley will receive three college credits for the Hanze University course that required her to attend eight two-hour, weekly sessions from April 6 through June 8. During a normal year, students would travel to Hanze University to participate in the program.
“I would not have been able to do it,” said Brantley, who works full time. This year’s course cost her only $150.
She is the only American student who participated. The other 11 students are from European countries, with the greatest number from the Netherlands. There are multiple instructors involved, including a military advisor from the Netherlands and a professor of Holocaust studies from Loyola University New Orleans.
For Brantley, the course has been eye-opening. The students listen to lecturers and videos that relay the testimonies, stories and backgrounds of Holocaust victims, survivors and perpetrators.
For example, they learned about several Jewish teenagers during the Holocaust. They explored what it was like for them to deal with the nationalistic (Nazi) idea of putting country above all else and how that conflicted with their faith, she said.
There are often deep discussions within the group, sometimes using an application that allows anonymous replies. “They want us to answer honestly and not be judged or feel embarrassed,” she said. “They’ll ask questions like, ‘Have you ever experienced a lack of basic human rights?’ It helps us to be aware of the people around us and that they don’t have the same experiences we’ve had.”
Brantley says she gained real understanding for how the Holocaust happened by seeing it through the eyes of victims, bystanders and upstanders, as well as by humanizing the perpetrators.
“It’s easy for people to look at the SS and Nazi soldiers as monsters. What they did was monstrous, but they were people who made choices. They knew what they did was wrong, and they couldn’t handle it but learned to rationalize it in their heads,” she said.
Why did bystanders turn in Jewish people? “A lot of those people were also threatened, and food was rationed. Jewish people only got around 150 calories per day, and non-German citizens about 600 calories. If you turned in someone, you would get almost 2,000 calories worth of bread,” she said. “Maybe they weren’t evil but just trying to get by.”
The course looked at the rhetoric and compared current events. “The same kind of things are going on in the world today; it’s just that we are not as aware,” said Brantley, recalling a New York Times article titled
“Anne Frank Today Is a Syrian Girl.”
“I love all my classes,” said Brantley. “But this one is actually teaching me how to be a better human being and take other peoples’ perspectives into account and to make sure that I’m aware of the effect that I have on others.”
As a final project, the Hanze students were broken into groups to come up with their own interventions. “We read a study that said a lot of people don’t realize the Holocaust even happened and somewhere around 20% of millennials think it was the Jewish peoples’ fault,” she said. “We are trying to come up with interventions to get people to connect with Holocaust stories to teach them so these things don’t continue to happen.”
The students have been invited to present their interventions at the European Honors Conference, which is a rare opportunity for undergraduate students.
Brantley says she would love to do more travelling and explore other cultures. “But financially, it was always super difficult for me,” she said. “I have lots of licenses and certifications, but I’ve always felt undervalued. I’m smart and I pick up things quickly, but I feel like I’m passed over because I don’t have a degree,” she said. That’s why getting one is a priority.
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