Section: News

Alumnus, scholar discusses ethics and legality of bystanders

This past Sunday and Monday, the Center for the Study of American Democracy and the Office of the Provost collaborated to host a workshop titled “Complicity of the Bystander,” led by Kenyon alumnus and University of Utah Professor of Law Amos Guiora ’79.

The two-session workshop focused on the legal accountability of bystanders in  criminal acts through an examination of events in the Holocaust: Germany’s occupation of Hungary and Holland, and the death marches.

Guiora, a counter-terrorism expert with no formal education on the Holocaust, says his focus on the topic came about by  happenstance.

“Seven years ago I was training for the Salt Lake marathon, and my running partner — who’s not Jewish — says to me, ‘How did the Holocaust happen?’ And even though both my parents are Holocaust survivors, I actually knew literally nothing,” Guiora said. “The race was Saturday morning and by Saturday night I decided that enough was enough. I became autodidactic about the Holocaust … and the more I read, I realized that [bystander complicity from a legal perspective] had gone unaddressed … and my book is actually the first one to address the question.”

While the seminar-discussion-based workshop focused on events from the Holocaust, it also included discussions on the intricacies of being a bystander, a possible policy in Utah that would criminalize being a bystander, and Professor Guiora’s new book The Crime of Complicity.

Guiora incorporates modern examples of complicit bystanders  into the workshop, as he believes this issue has substantial contemporary relevance.

“When we think about society today, there isn’t any doubt that the ills of a perpetrator are facilitated by the silence of the bystander,” Guiora said. “If we think about the #MeToo movement as an example, as awful as they are — and they are — the actions [of the perpetrator] would not have been possible without the bystander facilitating them.”

The workshop was limited to only 12 students, but Guiora would like to see all liberal arts students — specifically those at Kenyon — have the knowledge and ability to be upstanders.

While reflecting on his experience as a student at Kenyon 40 years ago, Guiora said, “The easy answer [for students] is to be engaged and not to be passive, to be cognizant of the peril of another individual and to understand that there is indeed a responsibility for acting and there are consequences for not acting.”

This was the first workshop of an identical three-part series, the next installments are on Feb. 17 to 18 and April 7 to 8. The workshops will have one session on Sunday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., and a second on Monday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.


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