What I Do: Norwich History Professor Rowland Brucken

The ultra-runner and human rights scholar discusses his work in Zimbabwe, the country’s repressive political climate, and baseball.

Norwich University Office of Communications

May 5, 2017

Norwich history professor and ultra-marathoner Rowland Brucken rarely takes the easy or conventional path. Take the Ohio native’s lifelong devotion to the Cleveland Indians. Or the fact that he didn’t start a band during high school–he founded a chapter of Amnesty International. Today, Brucken serves as the human rights organization’s Zimbabwe country expert and testifies on behalf of Zimbabweans seeking U.S. asylum. At Norwich, he teaches courses on human rights and international law, civil rights, and the prosecution of human rights abuses, as well as surveys of U.S. foreign policy, U.S. history, and the history of baseball. In the classroom, Brucken strives to inspire his students to inform themselves, engage with peers, and reach their own conclusions. “If students have the ability and will to do that, then I’m the happiest professor ever.”

What questions do you explore in your scholarship?

The main question around a lot of my research now is, how can societies heal from mass trauma? Whether it’s torture, genocide, systemic human rights abuses—what are the alternatives? What are the options that victims and survivors have? A second larger question with the human rights work that I do is, how has international human rights law evolved, especially since World War II? In what areas, regions, and times has it been effective in deterring human rights abuses or holding people accountable? In what areas has it been ineffective?

You returned to Zimbabwe earlier this year. What were you doing there?

I gave a paper on truth commissions to a government-sponsored research conference, which was a bit awkward. I also met with civil society groups, human rights organizations, to talk about how Amnesty can best help them given that the next year is probably going to be particularly difficult in Zimbabwe. Lastly—and something unexpected—as part of a transitional justice working group, I gave some feedback to the parliament of Zimbabwe on a truth commission bill that they are now debating. What kind of truth commission to set up in response to past human rights abuses.

You said next year will be difficult there. Why?

There are national elections scheduled for 2018. Whenever there have been elections, the government has increased surveillance and repression of perceived political challengers, as well as human right activists who document human rights abuses. Also, the ruling party might implode; the opposition party is relatively fragmented; and the economy has bottomed out. All of those make for a very uncertain campaign. The government with a monopoly on violence can act unpredictably and arbitrarily in employing torture and detention, among other weapons.

How did your interest in Zimbabwe come about?

It started when I studied abroad when I was in college, during my junior year back in 1990. I wanted to go a country that no one in my college had ever been to. I was at a place called Ranche House College in Harare, the capital. But I also ended up hitchhiking all over the country on my own.

What distinguished that experience for you?

Zimbabweans are culturally an incredibly generous and kind people. For example, when you ask somebody here in the United States, “How are you?” They say, “I’m fine.” In Zimbabwe, it translates into, “I am fine—if you are fine.” There’s a communitarian emphasis. I met many Zimbabweans all over the country. People would be cooking by the side of the road. I would just stop off and have dinner with them. They took me in as a college student, a 20-year-old guy who didn’t really know what he was doing with his life. They took me in, and they gave me their food, their wisdom, their hospitality. I’ve never forgotten that. It’s a debt that I can never repay as a human being.

Did you run on your most recent trip?

I did. I did. I forgot that Harare was a mile above sea level. I ran the same distance, but was often out of breath and had to run slow. I’m not one to back down. I just adjust my pace.

Are you still training for ultra-marathons?

I am. I’ve got one more 100-miler left in me. I’m doing two marathons this [year]. I’m looking at doing another 50-miler in the fall. It’s foolishness is what it is.

You study the history of baseball. Did you play as a youngster? Were you a fan?

I played horribly in little league for two years. I grew up in Cleveland, and so I’m a lifelong Cleveland Indians fan. When I was in elementary and junior high school, the Indians would finish last or next to last every year. Rooting for a losing baseball team, it taught me a lot about life. About being grateful for small victories and about loyalty and that every opening day is a new year. So hope emerges every year right in springtime with flowers and trees. Baseball has such rich history. I couldn’t imagine teaching a course on football history that brings in so many cultural, economic, foreign policy, political, race, class, and gender aspects as baseball does.

Interview edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Top 10 Norwich University News Stories of 2016

Norwich CSIA majors, faculty and alumni stand in front of Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on the eve of Super Bowl 50
Norwich University Office of Communications

December 14, 2016

It’s that time of year—a chance to highlight just some of the many accomplishments of Norwich University’s outstanding students, alumni, faculty, and staff during 2016. While they may make taking on difficult challenges and achieving distinction look effortless, it isn’t. A case in point: This list of stories below. In the end, we couldn’t winnow it to ten and were forced to sneak in four more.

1. Norwich Cyber Majors Help Safeguard Super Bowl 50

After a year of preparation, Norwich CSIA majors and faculty based in California and Northfield, Vt., worked with Santa Clara city, California state, and federal law enforcement officials to analyze and flag potential cybersecurity threats during the NFL championship matchup between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers.

2. Norwich University Celebrates 100 Years of ROTC
The birthplace of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, Norwich University celebrated ROTC’s centennial anniversary with a leadership symposium in April that drew scores of military VIPs. Among them, 39th U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Mark A. Milley, who gave the keynote address.

3. Norwich Class of 2020 Largest in University History
This fall, Norwich welcomed close to 900 first-year students to campus, the largest incoming class in the university’s nearly 200-year history.

4. Forbes Awards Norwich an “A” for Financial Strength
In August, Forbes magazine published their analysis of the financial footing of roughly 900 private colleges and universities, ranking Norwich University in the top 20 percent.

5. Writing Prof. Sean Prentiss Wins National Outdoor Book Award
Winning the history/biography category, Finding Abbey chronicled Prentiss’s two-year search for the hidden desert grave of environmental writer Edward Abbey.

6. Student-Built Tiny House Showcases Innovation, Hands-On Service Learning
Norwich architecture, construction management, and engineering majors and faculty designed and built C.A.S.A. (Creating Affordable Sustainable Architecture), a 334-square-foot tiny house with a small price tag to address Vermont’s affordable-housing crisis. See related article and video.

7. Norwich’s Standout Athletic Teams and Coaches Fight to a Four-Way Tie

8. Nisid Hajari Wins NU’s 2016 William E. Colby Book Award
A journalist who oversees Asia coverage for the editorial page of Bloomberg News, the first-time author won for Midnight’s Furies, an account of the 1947 partition of India and its surrounding violence following the end of British colonial rule. Founded at Norwich University, the annual book award and symposium celebrates outstanding writers, authors, and ideas from the fields of military affairs, military history, intelligence, and international affairs.

9. NUARI Cyber Attack Simulation Software Nominated for “Innovation of the Year”
Developed by the Norwich University Applied Research Institutes, the DECIDE-FS cyber-gaming platform has been used by major U.S. financial industry firms, regulators and law enforcement agencies to test institutional preparedness and resiliency in the face of cyberattacks.

10. Norwich Wins $700K+ NSA Grant to Train Next-Generation Cyber Soldiers
Working in collaboration with the United States Army Reserve, the National Security Agency announced in December that it had awarded Norwich over $700,000 to support scholarships for soldiers.

Bonus: Washington Post Columnist Says NU’s “I Will Try” Is Best College Motto
Writing in her Answer Sheet blog for the Washington Post, education reporter Valerie Strauss opines on “The Small Vermont University With Arguably the Best School Motto.”

Norwich Commencement | The Graduates: Hannah Bell ’16

Photo: Hannah Bell speaks to an unidentified cadet in a Norwich classroom

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Hannah Bell ’16

Hometown: Newberg, OR
Double Major: International Studies + Spanish
Minor: English
Student Path: Civilian

  • Rugby Team Senior Captain
  • Four-time Women’s Rugby Div. I National Champion
  • Three-time Women’s Rugby All-American
  • Academic Achievement Center Peer Tutor
  • Undergraduate Research Ambassador


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What Norwich Taught Me

I am driven person in part because I like to be in control….a lot of life is out of my hands and … I need to be at peace with that. Norwich taught me to time-manage and problem-solve efficiently through leadership opportunities like captaining the rugby team.[/content_band]

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On Academics:

The research I conducted the summer after my sophomore year was my first scholarly experience. I learned so much about process during this time. I also put together a really polished product, which is one of my accomplishments I am most proud of. I was selected to present this research … analyzing prominent, Western women novelists of the 20th century at the selective Posters on the Hill event [in Washington, D.C.]. I spoke with congressmen and their staff about my research and the importance of undergraduate research, which was an amazing experience.

Also, presenting my senior thesis for International Studies was a very proud moment. I discussed immigration policy and border security in Spain, which was a timely topic considering our own political rhetoric and the refugee crisis.[/content_band]

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On Athletics:

The second national championship I won in a Norwich jersey in North Carolina … It was incredible to come from behind in the final and defend out title. We came back from a 12-point [deficit]—winning in the final two minutes. Our team that year was made up of such exceptional players and people and that tournament was so much fun.[/content_band]

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Future Plans:

I will be heading to San Antonio to attend induction for the Teach For America San Antonio Corps. For two years I will be teaching in an under-served elementary school in San Antonio. I grew up in a household committed to social justice. My father is a Presbyterian pastor, and I always planned on … nonprofit work. I have been inspired by many great educators throughout my career and have had so much fun learning. I want to be able to help other kids fall in love with learning like I did. Ten to twenty years from now, I want to be a state prosecutor or a family doctor. I plan on taking the next two years to figure out which path to take.[/content_band]

Ideas @ Work: #20 Cadets Portraits

Photo: Norwich basketball player dribbles a ball
33 ideas big and small from Norwich students, faculty, staff, and alumni that are transforming campus and the world.
The Norwich Record

Spring 2016

Norwich athletes play to win. They also look pretty great in front of the camera. This fall, seasoned photojournalist and NU staff photographer Mark Collier captured a series of portraits of Cadets athletes. Far beyond your standard headshot or action photo, his images celebrate the grace and beauty of youth, the inner fire of fierce competitors, and other revealing moments before the camera.

More Ideas@Work:

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Photograph by Mark Collier, Norwich University Office of Communications

Ideas @ Work: #19 DIY Sports Reporting

33 ideas big and small from Norwich students, faculty, staff, and alumni that are transforming campus and the world.
The Norwich Record

Spring 2016

Director of Athletic Communications Derek Dunning finished the 2015 Boston Marathon in 2 hours 57 minutes. He can also drain the occasional jump shot while doubling as the George Plimpton of do-it-yourself sports reporting on campus. Dunning and his sports-com colleagues have challenged Cadets athletes to a number of sporting contests, from field goal kickoffs to soccer penalty shootouts. Video of the often-comic results can be seen at Norwichathletics.com. No word yet on a rugby challenge.

More Ideas@Work:

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The 25 Best Norwich Sports Portraits of 2015

Norwich women's volleyball player (photo)
Norwich University Office of Communications

December 11, 2015

Norwich athletes play to win. They also look pretty great in front of the camera. This fall, seasoned photojournalist and NU staff photographer Mark Collier began a series of portrait sessions with Cadets athletes. The following collection features 25 of the best images. Frames that celebrate the grace and beauty of youth, the inner fire of fierce competitors, and other revealing moments before the camera.

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Photo Gallery: Norwich Football Game Showcases School Spirit

Black and white image of Norwich rooks mugging it up at a football game
Norwich University Office of Communications

October 21, 2015

The Norwich University football team hosted Maritime (N.Y.) on Saturday during Parent and Family Weekend, winning its third straight Eastern Collegiate Football Conference game with a 30-22 victory. NU civilian students and rooks took the opportunity to show their school spirit.

Photographs by Mark Collier, NU Office of Communications

[slider animation=”fade” slide_time=”4000″ slide_speed=”500″ slideshow=”true” prev_next_nav=”true” no_container=”true”] [slide] [image src=”http://oc.norwich.edu/wp-content/uploads/norwich_football_1.jpg” alt=”Norwich football players run onto Sabine Field” type=”thumbnail”] [/slide] [slide] [image src=”http://oc.norwich.edu/wp-content/uploads/norwich_football_2.jpg” alt=”Ball boys share a laugh at a Norwich football game” type=”thumbnail”] [/slide][slide][image src=”http://oc.norwich.edu/wp-content/uploads/norwich_football_3.jpg” alt=”Norwich rooks mug for the camera at a recent football game” type=”thumbnail”] [/slide] [slide] [image src=”http://oc.norwich.edu/wp-content/uploads/norwich_football_4.jpg” alt=”Norwich Cadet mascot crosses Sabine Field during a recent football game” type=”thumbnail”] [/slide] [slide] [image src=”http://oc.norwich.edu/wp-content/uploads/norwich_football_5.jpg” alt=”Norwich rooks stand at attention and salute during the playing of the national anthem before a football game kickoff” type=”thumbnail”] [/slide] [/slider]

Norwich Football to Join NEWMAC Conference in 2017

Norwich University Athletics

April 8, 2015

BOSTON–The Norwich University football program will usher in a new era starting in 2017 when it joins the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) as an associate member.

Norwich will join MIT, United States Coast Guard Academy, Springfield College, WPI, United States Merchant Marine Academy (Kings Point) and Maine Maritime to form the new league’s inaugural membership class.

“I am very pleased to be joining the NEWMAC as the schools represented here adhere to our values and are fine academic institutions that believe in Division III principles of being a student athlete with student first and athlete second,” said Norwich University President Dr. Richard W. Schneider. “We play sports at Norwich to build our student’s leadership skills and instill a sense of pride for our student body, alumni and friends.”

“This conference also allows us to continue long held rivalries, especially with our sister military institutions. All the institutions in this conference believe as we do that you are not passing the football if you are not passing your academic courses! It is the best of college athletics. Of course, I am personally thrilled to compete with my alma mater, the Coast Guard Academy, as well as to establish new regional rivalries.”

The formation of the NEWMAC will be a reunion for Norwich, Coast Guard, Springfield, WPI and Merchant Marine Academy, who all used to be members of the Freedom Football Conference, which was in existence from 1992-2003.

“I am extremely excited for Norwich football to be a part of the NEWMAC football conference,” said NU Director of Athletics Tony Mariano. “To be able to compete against the high quality of institutions and football programs in this league will further engage alumni and the campus community in what promises to be spirited and sportsmanlike competition.”

“It has always been our goal to be able to compete with USCGA, Merchant Marine and Maine Maritime on a yearly basis and it is very important to our university and our alumni. This is an exciting time for Norwich football and I look forward to the start of the NEWMAC football conference.”

Norwich will remain in the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference (ECFC) for the 2015 and 2016 seasons, before moving to a full NEWMAC league schedule in 2017. The NEWMAC will not be eligible for an automatic bid into the NCAA Division III Tournament until 2019, per the NCAA’s by-laws for new leagues.

Norwich was a founding member of the ECFC, which began play in 2009. The Cadets won two league titles in 2009 and 2011 and made one NCAA Tournament appearance in 2011. NU has made the postseason six straight years with four ECAC Bowl appearances, one ECFC Championship game and the program’s inaugural trip to the NCAA playoffs.

“The opportunity to represent Norwich University as an affiliate member of the NEWMAC is exciting to the athletes and coaches of our football team,” said NU head coach Mark Murnyack. “This change comes with an expression of gratitude to NEWMAC for their welcome to a conference renowned for student-athletes like our own, who strive for excellence; compete with integrity; and display respect in all that they do.”

“I am mindful of our path to reach this point and forever grateful for the many opportunities, the outstanding competition and the lasting relationships made in the ECFC. Not often do you get the chance to return where you started; I feel as if we are doing this now with Norwich’s move to the NEWMAC. (Old Freedom Football Conference) Schools in this conference are outstanding both athletically and academically, and we look forward to a new beginning that will provide even stronger opportunities for development, growth and leadership of our current team and future players while engaging our fan base as we tackle old rivalries.”

The seven football-playing members of the NEWMAC have combined to go to 13 NCAA Tournaments and have played in 22 ECAC Championship Bowl Games. The NEWMAC will also be looking to add an eighth team prior to beginning play in 2017.

Norwich is coming off a 7-4 season and an ECAC Northeast Bowl Game appearance vs. Salve Regina. The Cadets are 44-21 over the past six seasons, which ranks as the third most wins out of all New England Division III football schools.

“It gives me great pleasure to officially welcome Norwich University to the NEWMAC as associate member in football,” said NEWMAC Executive Director Patrick B. Summers. “It was clear that Norwich’s desire to uphold the NEWMAC’s dedication to both academic and athletic excellence was sincere and made it an ideal fit as a pioneering member for the football conference.”

Norwich will still look to maintain its budding intrastate rivalry with Castleton as a non-league game once the Cadets move to the NEWMAC in 2017. NU opens its 122nd football season on Sept. 5 when it travels to RPI.

NEWMAC video