The Daily Gamecock

Q&A: Executive director of USC's Anne Frank Center talks Holocaust research, receiving Akers Prize

Doyle Stevick, the executive director of University of South Carolina's Anne Frank Center and an associate professor in the College of Education, has been named a 2023 recipient of the South Carolina Humanities Akers Prize for his work in Holocaust education. 

The Akers Prize honors individuals who "use culture and history to bring people together" but may not have had their work recognized outside of their community. Stevick, fellow USC faculty member Lacy Ford and other recipients of South Carolina Humanities awards will be recognized at the Pastides Alumni Center in Columbia on Thursday, Oct. 19, for utilizing the field to bring understanding to cultural and historical issues. 

Stevick has been a professor at the university since 2006 and began his work with the Anne Frank House in 2013. The Anne Frank House, based in Amsterdam, is a nonprofit organization that operates a museum in the house where Anne Frank hid from Nazi forces in the 1940s. The Anne Frank Center at USC is the national partner of the Anne Frank House and only partner site in North America. 

The Anne Frank Center was kick-started by an event hosting Ava Schloss, Frank's step-sister. In 2017, Schloss spoke to 2,000 middle school and high school students at the Koger Center and received three standing ovations. The Anne Frank House was moved by the event's success and worked to accomplish more with the university, according to Stevick.

While speaking to former university President Harris Pastides, Stevick mentioned dedicating a place on campus to educate people about Frank and the Holocaust by bringing the same "heartwarming and inspiring" experience as Schloss's talk to students. Pastides told Stevick he knew a location, and the Anne Frank Center opened its doors in 2021.

The Daily Gamecock spoke with Stevick to learn more about how his academic career led to developing the Anne Frank Center and receiving the Akers Prize.

The Daily Gamecock: How does it feel to be recognized by this organization? How do you feel your work contributes to their organization?

Stevick: “Extraordinary. Because I'm a professor of education, that's kind of been my frame of reference, although I've always tried to bring this kind of humanities perspective to my work. So to be recognized by specialists in the humanities was unexpected and a thrill. Really, really, a profound honor, and I appreciate it very much. 

I think that the largest purposes of the humanities are the ones we end up addressing through our work. The kinds of conversations that we're able to have around the difficult past is part of how the humanities should serve us today.”

What kind of research do you focus on?

“That's got a little bit of a back story that connects to the Anne Frank Center. But basically, I was doing a humanities Ph.D. at Indiana University. I studied classics, Greek and Latin, and I worked in archaeology. Then in spring of 1999, I taught Latin, and I had a student fail the class. And six weeks later, the police were looking for him. He was a suspect in a shooting at a synagogue, and it turned out he had fallen in with one of these white supremacist cults and decided to try to start a race war. So he had a reign of terror across Indiana and Illinois for the weekend of July 4 and finally killed himself in a gun battle with police. 

And that's what made me switch fields to something more. I wanted to study directly, people fall for this stuff and what can we do about it? So I brought that humanities sensibility into my research and education, and that led me into the former Soviet bloc … I wanted to understand how they were promoting democracy in schools ... So I came to Estonia to investigate democratization, but when I arrived, there was an incredible controversy about the Holocaust … Trying to understand where those views came from and how to address antisemitism in a context like that exposed me to the work of the Anne Frank House."

How does the Anne Frank House work worldwide? 

“About 40 years ago, the Anne Frank House realized that people have a powerful experience in Amsterdam, but most people can never come. So they developed a traveling exhibition to share the story around the world and they combined the exhibition with the power of young people's voices. So they prepared children, students, to be the guides for the exhibition. And children all know the negative power of peer pressure, but many of them don't appreciate their own potential to bring out the best in one another. So if we're able to help young people talk to one another about difficult issues, I think that's the formula for helping us understand one another and being able to build a better future." 

How has your work impacted your outside life and your everyday behavior? 

“Running the center has been pretty all-consuming ... But in terms of how you carry the work over with you, it's not easy, psychologically, dealing with the worst of human history, every day. So you strive to find that balance between seeing and recognizing the worst of humanity but also affirming its opposite. Genocide is nihilism and our work, it's life-denying. Our work has to be life-affirming and life-defending, and that manifests in a responsibility. I think we have to be upstanders together. We have this amazing diary of Anne Frank because a group of people were willing to put their lives on the line to protect them, and that's not an easy thing to do. It's hard to take those risks, but when we step back and realize all of us have that potential to make a positive difference and circumstances less dire, it's a reminder that that's a responsibility and something that we should try to do together. So when I think about what I hope we can achieve with our work, it's to build communities of upstanders to help people recognize their own abilities and to act on them.”

What do you enjoy most about each role that you play at the university? What do you feel is the most rewarding part of your job and your research?

“You know, there's a tradition in universities of giving your so-called 'last lecture,' where you try to share everything you've learned in, say, the last 25 years. And the beauty of my job is that I feel like I get to give my last lecture every day when I provide tours to the center, and I couldn't ask for anything more than that. 

I think there's no question. The most gratifying part of the work is the impact that students tell us the work has on them. So, to know that we're able to provide them an experience that is meaningful and sometimes transformative  —   that's all I could ask for."


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