My name is Samantha Lakin and I am a PhD candidate at The Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Clark University, USA. I am currently a Fulbright Scholar in Rwanda for the 2017-2018 academic year. I am most inspired by working with different people, public intellectuals, academics, and the strongpeople living and coping in the aftermath of conflict and genocide. I am most intellectually stimulated when I am exploring and analyzing ways to best help those who experienced mass human rights violations engage in justice-seeking and rebuilding their lives.
My research focuses on access to justice in post-conflict settings, with specific knowledge and experience working in Rwanda and the Great Lakes Region of Africa. My journey began as a Fulbright scholar to Switzerland in 2011-2012, where I researched the clandestine rescue of Jewish children to Switzerland during WWII, to escape Nazi persecution. Conducting oral history testimonies with 70 survivors of the Holocaust showed me what is possible when asking questions of past history and memory.
I was then offered a position in Rwanda, where I supported the Genocide Archive of Rwanda, Kigali Genocide Memorial, Aegis Trust, in documentation and preservation. In Rwanda I discovered incredible stories of resilience, honest stories about the atrocities that occurred during the 1994 genocide, and how traditional justice mechanisms have not done enough to bring the country back together. Therefore, my research focuses on memorial sites, spaces, and processes in Rwanda, looking at symbolic meaning for psychosocial healing for survivors. How do symbolic reparations and memorials help survivors reenter society and best confront their past? Through the interviews and conversations I conduct, a common theme arises: feeling a sense of justice is a personal thing, it is different for each survivor. However, researchers can translate these needs to government and decision-makers after speaking with local Rwandans, and truly understanding what they need in order to feel that justice has been achieved.
Since 2013 I have held contracts from the United States Embassy, Refugee Law Project, Aegis Trust, and other international NGOs in DRC, Northern Uganda, Burundi, and Nigeria, but Rwanda is my main field site. I hold a Master of Arts in International Law and Diplomacy from The Fletcher School at Tufts University, and a B.A. from Brandeis University. I am also a public intellectual in post-conflict justice issues, where I speak, facilitate, and teach in academic and non-academic forums, including conferences, TedXFulbright, Talks@Google Cambridge, and I write often for academic and news outlets.
My research combines methods from anthropology, history, political science, and fits within the transitional justice framework. I work on issues of symbolic reparations, specifically around how memory and engaging in memorial sites and spaces can provide senses of justice, with a specific focus on understanding local needs and representing those needs to leaders and governments.