While in college in the West Bank and Jerusalem, Curt Goering would frequently watch soldiers periodically enter and disrupt his classes and take students away. His classmates would often return with bruises on their bodies and grave stories of what the soldiers did to them. These narratives, and the time he spent studying abroad in the Middle East, led him to pursue graduate work on the region with a focus on human rights. He joined the MAAS program and graduated as a member of MAAS’ inaugural class in 1980.
“That regional knowledge was absolutely essential in understanding the human rights dynamics in a particular country,” Goering says of his time in the MAAS program. “I also learned that often the most credible local civil society actors—whether academics, writers, professionals in a range of fields—were courageous and principled advocates for basic human rights [and] were persecuted and marginalized for their advocacy or simply because of their beliefs.”
Goering has worked in the field of human rights for nearly 40 years. He currently serves as Executive Director of the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT), an NGO that advocates for the protection and care of torture survivors. CVT provides comprehensive care for victims of government-sponsored torture, conducts research and training, and undertakes efforts to commit the United States and other institutions to prevent the practice of torture and to aid torture survivors. Goering oversees programs in the United States, Africa and the Middle East, including in Jordan, where they operate their largest program. With a staff of over 100 in Jordan alone, CVT works to rehabilitate survivors of torture and war-related trauma who fled armed conflict in Iraq and Syria.
Prior to joining CVT in 2012, Goering worked for Amnesty International USA for 31 years, where he expanded advocacy programs and global membership, and directed day-to-day operations. He also led a dozen research missions, including to Afghanistan, Bosnia, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Mongolia, Taiwan, Turkey, and Tanzania. Additionally, Goering served as director of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ office in the Gaza Strip between 2009 and 2010, where he documented gross violations of human rights law and the laws of war, including the use of weapons made with phosphorus and the use of civilians as human shields.
While his degree in Arab Studies has been crucial throughout his work on human rights in the Middle East, Goering says the regional studies degree has enormous benefit at home in the United States. In light of increasing fear-mongering and efforts by the Trump administration to ban Muslims from entering and working in the United States, a degree in Arab Studies couldn’t come at a more useful time.
“At a time when truth and science don’t seem to matter much to too many in the Trump Administration, the importance and value of knowledge and facts and academic discipline are more critical than ever,” says Goering. “At the end of the day, U.S. national interests, and even our own security, rests upon understanding the experience and realities of people around the globe that shape and motivate governments and citizens to act as they do.”
By Kristina Bogos
Kristina graduated from the MAAS program in May 2017.