Feb. 18, 2008
Dr. Rangira Béa Gallimore, who will speak at Morningside College on Feb. 26, was at an academic conference back in 1994 when she talked on the telephone with her mother and sister and learned they were about to be killed.
She said being safe in a hotel room in Canada and knowing that family members were in such danger was the most helpless feeling in the world. She said she tried to call back 15 minutes later, but her mother, three brothers and a sister had already been murdered. They were victims of the Rwandan genocide, where nearly a million people were killed in a little over 3 months.
Gallimore was born in Rwanda but grew up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She moved in 1980 to the United States, where she is now on the faculty at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Gallimore’s mother did not live in Rwanda in 1994 either, but she happened to be there visiting her children when the genocide occurred.
After that phone call, Gallimore felt she had to go see if any family members in Rwanda were still alive. Though the genocide continued, Gallimore went into Rwanda and was able to find one of her sisters. She eventually brought her sister and many nieces and nephews back to Columbia, Mo., as refugees.
An associate professor of romance languages and literature, Gallimore had been working before the genocide to analyze literature that dealt with violence against women. But she said fiction no longer seemed important when reality was so horrifying, so she soon changed her focus to research the real-life issue of rape and genocide in Rwanda.
Because she was researching the genocide, Gallimore was invited to a conference on women in conflict that was in Rwanda in 2003. She said a Rwandan woman approached her at the conference and said, “‘You’re Rwandan, right? You come here, you write your books, but then what do you do to help us?’” Gallimore said she looked in the woman’s eyes, and she said, “I will do something.”
In 2004, Gallimore founded the Step Up! American Association for Rwandan Women. This organization helps women find jobs, food and school supplies; it also works to meet their mental health needs as a result of the genocide. With Dr. Barbara Bauer, a Step Up! psychologist, Gallimore has interviewed many survivors, and she is now analyzing their stories in an upcoming book.
When Gallimore speaks at Morningside College at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26, in the UPS Auditorium in Lincoln Center, 3627 Peters Ave, she will discuss how women who survived the Rwandan genocide have struggled to find words to explain their experience. They say, “‘It’s incomprehensible. It’s inexplicable. I don’t have much to say.’” Gallimore said it is a limitation of everyday language that there are no words to describe something so horrible, so she will analyze what women are doing to overcome this obstacle, as well as many others.
Then on Wednesday, Feb. 27, the day after Gallimore’s lecture, she will lead a workshop at Morningside College exploring how to teach about such challenging topics as rape, incest, genocide and war, making the reality of the horrors vivid but also encouraging creative and empowering human responses. Faculty members from Briar Cliff University and Western Iowa Tech Community College, high school teachers and any interested members of the Siouxland community are invited to attend. To register for the free workshop, contact Marcie Ponder at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also on Feb. 27, the public is invited to have an informal conversation with Gallimore about her upcoming book. This will take place at noon in the Hickman Dining Room of the Olsen Student Center, 3609 Peters Ave.
Gallimore said she would love it if the community responded to her visit by establishing a local chapter of Step Up! or by forming a human rights group that fights to keep genocide from occurring. However, she said her main goal is education.
“American people have a very good heart – a big heart – but they need to know,” Gallimore said. “Often times the media only talks about what happens here in this country. They don’t talk about what’s happening everywhere else. Any danger to another human being is a danger to you, no matter how secure you are.”
Contributions to Step Up! can be made at the lecture or at the workshop. They can also be sent to Dr. Marty Knepper, professor and chair of English at Morningside and coordinator of the Dr. R. Franklin Terry Women’s Studies Lecture and Faculty Development Series.
“We hope to help Dr. Gallimore in the important work she is doing with the survivors of the Rwandan genocide,” Knepper said.
Gallimore will be the second speaker at Morningside College as part of the Dr. R. Franklin Terry Women’s Studies Lecture and Faculty Development Series, an effort to bring a renowned women’s studies scholar to campus every semester for three years.