Russians and Chechens

Historical context helps us to better understand the world behind today’s headlines.

A map of the Caucasian isthmus from 1852. (PUBLIC DOMAIN)

A map of the Caucasian isthmus from 1852. (PUBLIC DOMAIN)

The ethnicity of the Tsarnaev brothers, accused of the bombing of the Boston Marathon in April, 2013, has generated commentary about Chechnya and the Russian wars since the 1990’s to subjugate this mountainous region.

The historical context of this news reporting has been shallow.

An experiment in teaching anthropology through literature entailed the exposure of students to the 19th century cultures of imperial Russia and Chechen warriors.

Leo Tolstoy served as an officer in the Tsar’s army during the 1850’s as part of the two-century long Russian campaign to bring the Caucasus under control. Tolstoy’s final short novel, the masterpiece Hadji Murád, depicts the effects of the strategy of Tsar Nicholas I: deforestation, pollution of wells, destruction of livestock, and elimination of means of subsistence of the Chechens, who mixed farming and sheep herding.

Drawing upon his military experience in the Caucasus, Tolstoy reconstructs an incident in the conflict.

After the Russians had laid waste the region, Sado, an ally of the fierce warrior Hadji Murad, returns to his village to find his young son stabbed in the back with a bayonet.

The two stacks of hay there had been burnt, the apricot and cherry trees he had planted and reared were broken and scorched, and worse still all the beehives and bees had been burnt. The wailing of the women and the little children, who cried with their mothers, mingled with the lowing of the hungry cattle for whom there was no food. The bigger children, instead of playing, followed their elders with frightened eyes. The fountain was polluted, evidently on purpose, so that the water could not be used. The mosque was polluted in the same way, and the Mullah and his assistants were cleaning it out. No one spoke of hatred of the Russians. The feeling experienced by all the Chechens, from the youngest to the oldest, was stronger than hate. It was not hatred, for they did not regard those Russian dogs as human beings, but it was such repulsion, disgust, and perplexity at the senseless cruelty of these creatures, that the desire to exterminate them–like the desire to exterminate rats, poisonous spiders, or wolves—was as natural an instinct as that of self-preservation.*

In the 19th century, the Russians depicted the Chechens, whose land they were appropriating, as bandits and rapists. In 1944, fifteen years of selective exile and imprisonment of Chechen leaders culminated in a brutal wholesale deportation and dispersal of the Chechen population to other areas of the Soviet Union. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, in the 1990’s and early 21st century, the Chechens resumed their battle for independence, and in reprisal for insensate brutality by Russian military forces carried out savage terrorist reprisals.

The past and the present are one.


*“Hadji Murád,” in Great Short Works of Leo Tolstoy (New York: Harper and Row: 1967), p. 629.


robert-bourgeoisDr. Robert Bourgeois is the Associate Professor of Anthropology, Humanities, and Global Studies, and the Director of Global Studies at Albertus Magnus College. He received his B.A. from Yale University, and M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. He joined the Albertus faculty in 2005.

Albertus Legacy – A Mother’s Dream


Legacy students at Albertus are those with a family member who has graduated from the College. The tradition goes back to the earliest days of Albertus: a member of the class of 1929 – the second graduating class – had a sister who graduated in 1936, a daughter who graduated in 1955 and a granddaughter in the Class of 1986. Today the connections continue and in honor of Mother’s Day we are pleased to introduce you to one of our Albertus Legacy families.

In her mid-thirties, Lianne Escher found her life as an individual, rather than someone defined by various roles. “I knew that I wanted, someday, to help others as I was being helped to recreate my life,” she says. It was that resolve that led her to Albertus, where she gained the confidence to pursue her interest in psychology. While a student here, she also attended lectures at the Carl Jung Institute in New York City, and after five years of part-time study at Albertus received her degree. She studied for three years in a master’s program at Smith College School for Social Work, and has a psychotherapy practice. “I so appreciate the impact that the meaningful experiences at Albertus had on my life.”

Athena Thompson, Escher’s daughter, remembers hearing about Albertus as a teenager, but she too came to Albertus as an adult: “I worked after high school and didn’t find my way back to college until I was 32. I had two very young children, but I wanted to be on campus during the day for a full college experience. It was worth every minute of juggling my time.”

Elijah Beebe-Maddix, Thompson’s son, also grew up with first-hand knowledge of Albertus, often coming to campus with his mother. When it was college-time, a campus tour helped him decide that Albertus was the right place to be.

“I’m so pleased that my daughter and now my grandson have made Albertus their choice.”

- Lianne Escher, Bachelor of Arts ’82, Psychology Major

Lianne Escher, M.S.W., has recently been recognized by Continental Who’s Who as a Pinnacle Professional in the field of Mental Health Services. She is a psychotherapist and member of the National Association of Social Workers, and works with clients in the areas of energy healing and counseling. Prior to establishing her private practice, she worked at Yale University.

High-Impact Practices: The Key to College Success and the Hallmark of an Albertus Education

Have you ever taken a course in which you wrote all of the papers, took all of the exams, passed or even received an A, but a month after it was over, remembered little or nothing about the content, or could no longer apply what you had learned? People have an amazing capacity for such superficial learning that enables them to meet the goal at hand. The question is how do we learn deeply? How can we learn in a way that transforms us, in a way that enables us to take what we have learned and engage the world in new and creative ways, or, less ambitiously, just solve problems or overcome obstacles we have identified?

In a report sponsored by the American Association of Colleges and Universities entitled, High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access To Them, and Why They Matter, George Kuh identifies a number of teaching strategies, which he calls high-impact practices, that have been shown to promote student learning and success. The list includes:

  • First-year seminars and experiences
  • Writing-intensive courses
  • Collaborative assignments and projects
  • Undergraduate research
  • Diversity/global learning
  • Service learning
  • Internships
  • Common intellectual experiences
  • Capstone courses and projects

What do these have in common? They require that students engage with others in the learning process and take what they are learning and apply it. Action and engagement are part of the learning process itself, not something that happens after it is over.

When I first heard the term, high-impact practice, a few years ago, it was a Eureka moment because it brought together under a single label so many of the practices I had found to be successful in teaching students at Albertus. I was also proud because it affirmed what we at Albertus were doing as being worthwhile. First-year and capstone seminars, writing intensive courses, and collaborative learning, are all core elements of Albertus’s general education program, the Insight Program. Two-thirds of our students participate in internships and/or student teaching. In recent years, inspired by the research on high-impact practices, we have expanded undergraduate research opportunities, including the establishment of an innovative program, the Aquinas Scholars Program, which enables faculty to work with students on projects they design. We also have expanded service learning opportunities. This year, one of our service learning courses included participation in a Habitat for Humanity project in Canada. (You can learn about the experience of students who participated by going to: Service Learning: Across Borders 2013)

Our most ambitious recent project has been to introduce the use of ePortfolios as a high-impact practice. As part of their coursework, students are building ePortfolios in which they document and reflect upon what they have learned. These ePortfolios can be used to support their applications to graduate schools or as professional ePortfolios which they can use when applying for positions. You can see some examples of what students are doing by visiting The ePortfolio Initiative page.

Our focus on the use of high-impact practices has contributed to making Albertus a vibrant learning community. Each year, we celebrate students’ accomplishments and recommit ourselves to providing an education that matters at Experiential Learning Day, where students share their work. (To take a look at this year’s Experiential Learning Day.)

I appreciate the opportunity to be part of the Albertus community, to be part of an enterprise that I know is making a difference in so many people’s lives.


Dr. Sean P. O’Connell is the Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs at Albertus Magnus College. Dr. O’Connell earned his B.A., summa cum laude, and M.A. in philosophy from The Catholic University of America, and his Ph.D. in philosophy from Fordham University. He has published articles and essays on topics ranging from a close reading of Plato’s Philebus to promoting diversity in higher education. He is the author of OutSpeak: Narrating Identities that Matter.