Alex Alvarez ’85 majored in sociology and outdoor education at Northland College and went on to pursue sociology at the University of New Hampshire. He is a professor at Northern Arizona University in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice and from 2001 until 2003 was the founding Director of the Martin-Springer Institute for Teaching the Holocaust, Tolerance, and Humanitarian Value. He is currently director of the Genocide Resource Project and is the author of six books including, Unstable Ground: Climate Change, Conflict, and Genocide and Native America and the Question of Genocide.
How did you get interested in genocide, violence, and homicide? You must make one heck of a dinner guest.
When I left Northland I went to graduate school at the University of New Hampshire and was assigned as a grad student to a faculty member who was conducting research on homicide in the US. I found the work fascinating and continued to research lethal violence in the US for years. Over time, however, I began realizing that I could apply traditional criminological perspectives to genocide to help make sense of this form of collective violence. Consequently, I began to shift my research to work on mass atrocity crime. You are also correct. I’m just a hoot at dinner parties.
Are there elements of your Northland education that influenced your career or that stick with you?
Absolutely. My education at Northland helped develop a number of foundational skills that served me well in graduate school and afterward. For example, I had taken statistics with Dr. Patricia Shifferd and struggled through it doing calculations by hand and really suffering. Yet, when I went to UNH and took a grad level statistics course, I found it relatively easy and in fact, we used the same exact text that Dr. Shifferd had used. Northland also first raised my awareness about the natural world and environment that has always stayed with me. Since Northland, I have had a deeper appreciation of and sensitivity to environmental issues, ecology, and climate. Usually, that was largely part of my personal life, but not the professional. Recently, however, my personal concern and my professional research have blended together. My most recent book concerns climate change and the risks it brings for conflict and mass violence and, in many ways, it reflects the influence Northland College has had on shaping my awareness and thinking.
Tell me more about your involvement with the Genocide Resource Project.
This is a passion project that is still developing and taking shape. In part, it is intended that it will be a clearinghouse for genocide-related information and resources. It will include the only complete digitized location of Der Sturmer, a Nazi propaganda newspaper that will be translated and tagged so that visitors can search the database for specific issues and themes, as well as a GIS-based tool for searching for genocide-related locations around the world with links to further resources. As of yet, however, it isn’t really accessible to the public.
You also majored in outdoor education at Northland. Do you still use any of the wilderness skills?
Although I don’t lead outdoor trips anymore, I still often use the outdoor skills I first learned at Northland. For many years, I was an avid mountain climber, while nowadays, I do a lot of mountain biking and have done a number of bike packing trips in the backcountry. This summer, my youngest daughter Astrid, and I will cycle across the country on the TransAmerica trail system. For all these things, it was at Northland where I first began learning the skills sets needed for safely engaging in outdoor adventure.