Humanities instructor taught about the Holocaust and other genocides for nearly 30 years
Vicky Knickerbocker, humanities and sociology faculty at Inver Hills Community College, is retiring this summer after teaching at the college since August 2007. Vicky has served as a Holocaust/genocide educator for almost three decades.
In 1999, she started her journey as a genocide scholar by researching the Holocaust, a genocide that resulted in the deaths of 6 million European Jews along with millions more ethnic Poles, Serbs, Soviet civilians and POWs, the Roma, the disabled, political and religious dissidents, and homosexuals. These state-sponsored murders were carried out by the Nazi regime and its collaborators.
In 2015, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees recognized Vicky as one of 31 Outstanding Educators from campuses around the state. Vicky was honored for the exemplary teaching experience she provides to her students.
Besides teaching sociology and humanities courses, Vicky also taught courses in human services at Inver Hills. An energetic, compassionate member of the Inver Hills campus community, she is a remarkably experienced global traveler with a talent for bringing the world to her classroom.
“I have traveled to several parts of the world including South America, Central America, Southeast Asia, Africa, and Europe to foster my knowledge of global diversity,” Vicky said. “Some of the most recent countries I have visited have included Italy, Portugal, Spain, Russia, Cuba, Peru, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Rwanda.”
Vicky has also visited Israel, Ireland, Great Britain, Poland, the Czech Republic, Malaysia and Ecuador. Her most treasured adventures have involved leading her students and peers to historic Holocaust sites in Europe.
In January 2015, Vicky facilitated an unique travel opportunity for Inver Hills students/faculty to participate in a Holocaust-related tour led by Eva Kor, a Holocaust survivor. This tour involved travel to Auschwitz, one of the most notorious Nazi death camps, to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of those liberated from the camp, including Eva.
Vicky also led two Inver Hills student groups to Germany and Poland to retrace the Holocaust experiences of Inge Auerbacher, who was interned in Terezin, the “model” ghetto that the Nazis falsely claimed was created to protect the Jews.
Three words that describe you as a Holocaust educator:
PASSIONATE. COMMITTED. DEDICATED.
More about Vicky…
Originally from Cloquet, Minnesota, Vicky graduated from Cloquet High School, Class of 1974. In 1978, she graduated magma cum laude from the University of Minnesota, Duluth, earning a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Sociology-Criminology with a Minor in Psychology. She served as a social worker for 16 years with Aitkin County Family Social Services. She earned her Master of Social Work (M.S.W.) from the U of M, Twin Cities, in 1991, graduating summa cum laude.
In 2002, Vicky accepted an offer to work as an educational outreach coordinator at the Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies on the Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota. “That was a wonderful opportunity,” she said. “I worked at the center for five years.”
Before becoming a full-time faculty member at Inver Hills, Vicky taught humanities, sociology, women’s studies and human services courses at Central Lakes College for 10 years. She also taught at St. Cloud State University, Southwest State University and the College of St. Scholastica.
In her Humanities and Sociology courses, Vicky has engaged students on a variety of levels: small group, individual, independent and online. She embeds critical thinking, civic engagement and communication outcomes in her syllabus and assignments.
Vicky actively encourages her students to further research human rights issues and to develop action plans that indicate how they and others can take corrective action to reduce the human suffering associated with the human rights violations and social injustices their research findings have revealed. She has strongly supported students sharing their research findings at different public venues in a wide variety of ways.
Vicky has invited Holocaust survivors, opponents of human trafficking, genocide scholars and other human rights activists/educators to her classrooms. She often discovers guest speakers visiting other colleges in Twin Cities metro area and then persuades them to speak at Inver Hills, both to her class and the entire campus.
Vicky has been exceptionally active in student life outside the classroom. As a faculty advisor for the college’s Phi Theta Kappa chapter, Alpha Omicron Beta, she was honored with the 2014 Distinguished Advisor Award presented by the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. She also took part in an Inver Hills Katrina Disaster Relief Trip to the Gulf Coast with students and fellow faculty.
In her free time, Vicky loves to travel (see above), go on bike rides in the summer, bargain shop and sew baby blankets. She has been in a committed relationship with her partner, Roger, for 23 years. Vicky and Roger reside in Sartell, Minnesota.
Previous Inver Hills News stories featuring Vicky…
“Inver Students Visit D.C. and New York City”
“Vicky Knickerbocker: PTK Faculty Scholar”
“Journey with Holocaust Survivor”
“Transfer of Memory Opening Reception”
“Why I Teach about the Holocaust”
Vicky Knickerbocker • Q & A
How did your scholarly research on the Holocaust influence your career as a college instructor?
Over the past 30 years, I have attended many Holocaust conferences, seminars, and educational training activities that have strengthened my desire and interest in developing community college courses that promote students’ knowledge of genocide.
It all began in late 1999 when I proposed my first Humanities course entitled “Holocaust, Past and Present.” The course was a result of attending a graduate education course entitled “Social Justice: A Trip to the Holocaust Museum” offered by Hamline University and co-hosting a daylong symposium, “The Flames of the Holocaust,” held at Central Lakes College and attended by more than 700 people.
The graduate course offered a one-day visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and follow-up online discussion forums and reflective writing assignments. This was the first course I had ever taken that required me to make online posts.
Although I was a bit awkward at doing so, I was glad that I could be involved in this interactive dialogue because I learned a lot from other college teachers about the different teaching strategies they were using to promote students’ knowledge of social justice and human rights issues in collegiate settings in Minnesota and elsewhere in the world. My involvement in these online discussion forums also sparked my initial interest in developing future online discussion forums for my own students.
The major focus of the Holocaust symposium was for students and community members to explore the origins and causes of hate and intolerance from a historical and contemporary perspective. Group presentations and discussions were led by three keynote speakers to spark participant interest and awareness of how cultural misunderstandings and lack of tolerance can lead to social injustices in local communities and elsewhere in the world.
My proposal to teach a 3-credit humanities course was accepted, and I began teaching my first genocide course at Central Lakes College in September 2000 after attending a summer teaching institute, “Teaching about the Holocaust and Contemporary Genocide,” facilitated by Stephen Feinstein, director of the Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the U of M.
Attending this teacher’s institute greatly enhanced my knowledge of how to properly design a course about genocide and gave me the rare chance to personally meet several Holocaust survivors and genocide scholars, who offered many important teaching tips about how to personalize and humanize students’ study of genocide.
Nelly Trocmé Hewett was one of these survivors who shared a very inspirational story about Holocaust Rescue. Nelly spoke about the need for human beings to truly care for one another. She informed us that there were a number of caring individuals that lived in a rural French community during the Nazi era who took many risks to save the lives of persecuted Jews simply because they believed it was the right thing to do.
Hearing Nelly’s Holocaust testimonial reinforced my desire to help college students learn more about the world they lived in. It reinforced my motivation to develop a humanities course designed to acquaint students with the historical context and social ramifications of the Nazi Holocaust and other genocides. I wanted this course to emphasize student’s mutual obligation to remember and learn from these historical events. I hoped to teach them to become more compassionate and tolerant individuals.
One of the most important teaching tips these Holocaust scholars and survivors recommended was the use of personal testimonials and first-person narratives. They stressed the importance of sharing survivor stories because they teach students that genocide was not committed by monsters or demons, but by ordinary citizens like themselves.
They also identified several memoirs, films, and scholarly resources that college teachers could use to deepen students’ understanding of five crucial things about genocide:
- Why it occurs
- How it occurs
- Who commits it
- What are its human consequences
- What can be done about it
Holocaust scholars and survivors advocated that these educational resources would help students think critically about what it meant to be a bystander, a bully, a victim, and an upstander then, and what it means today.
Since meeting Nelly, I have met several other Holocaust survivors including Eva Kor and Inge Auerbacher, who greatly reinforced by motivation to teach about the Holocaust and other genocides. I have been teaching courses about genocide at Inver Hills Community College since the fall of 2008.
What is the most important lesson we can learn from the Holocaust?
When I started working at Inver, I soon realized that there were no courses about genocide being offered at the college. To address this educational deficiency, I proposed two new course offerings, the first being a 3-credit Humanities course entitled “Holocaust Through Multiple Lenses” and the second being a 3-credit Sociology course called “Sociology of Genocide.”
I proposed these two courses because I believed that they could benefit community college students in many positive ways. I argued the knowledge they would gain would be vital to helping them become more informed and critical decision makers. The courses would help teach students that genocide is not an inevitable historical event, but has historically occurred because of the choices individuals and groups of individuals made to act very inhumanely.
For example, the Holocaust was a genocide perpetuated by ordinary people, not barbarians who had decided to follow leaders whose ideas were based on hate and prejudice. Studying genocide would also be a “wake-up” call for many students who never studied genocide before. It would help stretch their cultural perceptive-taking and increase their awareness of how cultural differences have historically been perceived, and how they treat others whose cultural backgrounds are different from their own.
Finally, it would help them “think out of the box” and discover the power they have to make a positive difference in the world. Offering these two courses also seemed very timely because Minnesota had become home to many new immigrants and refugees who were fleeing countries ravaged by war or genocide. Another important benefit for students was that these two courses would be provided online as well as in the traditional classroom.
Three words that describe you as a humanities and sociology instructor:
ENTHUSIASTIC. EMPATHETIC. MOTIVATED.
What is the most interesting country you’ve ever visited and why?
Two of the most interesting countries I have visited have been Russia and Cuba. Having the opportunity to travel to these two countries gave me the chance to learn more about Russian and Cuban culture. The experience helped demystify some of the cultural myths that I grew up with about Russian and Cuban people.
What is your favorite memory from your time teaching at Inver Hills?
I have several, but two that stand out are:
- Organizing international travel trips that related to the Holocaust. In the fall of 2010, Holocaust survivor, Inge Auerbacher, agreed to travel with me and a small group of Inver Hills students to Europe for 13 days in June 2011 to visit Holocaust-related sites in Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic. Inge also agreed to do so a second time a few years later so that another small group of Inver students could have the rare opportunity to get to know her personally and to retrace her Holocaust experiences.
- Hosting a rare educational presentation at Inver Hills that featured Holocaust survivor, Eva Kor. Eva made this presentation to a packed house of college and high school students/teachers and community participants in the Fine Arts auditorium.
What advice would you give students thinking about pursuing a career in the humanities?
Be prepared to go the extra mile to learn more.
What will you miss most about teaching at Inver Hills?
I will miss helping students discover and foster their passions for learning
How would you describe your teaching style?
As a community college instructor, I believe that learning should broaden students’ perspectives and empower students’ abilities to live and work successfully in a globally diverse world by:
- Enhancing their cultural awareness
- Promoting their critical reflection
- Fostering their hope
- Inspiring their creative problem-solving abilities
- Fortifying their leadership skills
Teaching humanities, human services and sociology courses has given me the opportunity to stretch students’ cultural perspective-taking and their world views by increasing their awareness of the global diversity, the hidden costs of globalization, and the great magnitude of human suffering caused by cultural intolerance/hatred throughout the world.
One of the most effective ways that I have found to teach about cultural oppression is to share one story at a time. This approach helps put a human face to statistical data that is sometimes too overwhelming to comprehend, such as 11 million died during the Holocaust.
Thus, I have consistently used memoirs and first-person accounts in the college courses I have taught to personalize and humanize the often incomprehensible human suffering historically caused by cultural oppression. Reading this type of literature helps college students gain an insider’s perspective of why genocide occurs, how hate and bigotry have been historically perpetuated, and what the human costs of genocide are.
First-person accounts also help students gain greater understanding of what it has historically meant to be a victim, a bystander and a perpetrator. Acquiring this knowledge can enhance their abilities to make more informed and socially conscious decisions in the future and strengthen their resolve to take corrective action.
For example, by studying the results of being a passive bystander, students should be more inclined to take a stand when they see an injustice occur anywhere, whether it takes place in their home, at school or at work.
Additionally, I have used reflective writing activities to help students make personal connections to the people and historical events they are learning about. I feel that student learning is best facilitated by creating educational learning activities that are personally relevant and meaningful, culturally enriching, experiential and participatory
What are you looking forward to most in your retirement?
Getting more exercise and spending more time outdoors. Having the chance to ride my bike more often with Roger. Traveling to new places.
One word that best describes your experience teaching at Inver Hills:
On a final note…
Vicky Knickerbocker will retire as a community college instructor in August of 2021. Vicky will do so smiling, knowing that she has left quite a positive legacy behind.
The Inver Hills administration is committed to continuing to offer the two Holocaust-related humanities courses she has taught for some time. Currently, there is active search going on to find a humanities instructor qualified to do so.
Additionally, Vicky takes great pride in knowing that she played an instrumental role in helping create the Culturally Responsive Professional Peace Officer program with several other faculty/staff members. In fall 2021, Inver Hills will have the first program cohort of future culturally responsive public servant leaders in public and protective services.
On a final note, Vicky is very proud of the fact that she also recently collaborated with an interdisciplinary group of Inver Hills educators to develop a second new social justice initiative that features the creation of two new Social Justice programs, which have just begun to accept students. This new programming focuses on restorative justice and is intended to help students acquire the skills and knowledge they need in their future careers to resolve social justice issues more effectively.
Learn more about Sociology and the Humanities at Inver Hills by contacting: