The University of South Carolina’s Anne Frank Center offers freshmen students an unparalleled educational experience. More than 320 sections of University 101 have toured the center during the fall semester through the campus partner presentation. Students are introduced to the story of Anne Frank and her family, the helpers who hid them and a parallel timeline of events from United States history. Students have the opportunity to remember, reflect and respond with their peers and learn about becoming bystanders who stand up to bigotry wherever it may exist today.
Residence Life Coordinator, Alexis Michalos, was no stranger to Anne Frank’s story. As a student at USC, she had a representative from the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam speak to her class about bias and diversity. This sparked an interest that she seeks to incorporate into her University 101 classes today. Michalos has participated in the center tour for two semesters with separate classes.
“I love that this is an opportunity for our students,” Michalos says. “It’s really special that this center exists at USC and is something that no other university can claim.”
Michalos felt that while she knew about Anne’s story, the center highlights Anne’s experience in a profound way. She also was excited about the connection with the 2022 Freshman Reading Experience selection, Biased.
The impact of being in the space is very emotional,” Michalos says. “I liked discussing with my class about the book and how different biases contributed to the Holocaust. I’ve gotten such positive feedback from my students that I know this is something I will incorporate again and again.”
Michalos enjoyed watching her students’ faces as they moved from room to room. They were particularly amazed in the Annex space, which is an exact recreation of Anne’s space in the hiding place.
“When you see the space Anne’s family lived in and realize that your class can barely fit, it’s really powerful,” Michalos says. “The students shared that it was really eye-opening to see that their main room was smaller than most dorm rooms.”
Michalos shares that the timeline of Holocaust events compared to United States history was moving for her students. She could see her students really considering their own history and how events in the United States compared to the events in Europe. The models and interactivity of the center give students a new way to reflect.
“One of the most powerful parts for me as an instructor was reading their end-of-year reflections,” Michalos says. “Even though it was months after our tour, my students were still thinking about the experience. They shared that they started thinking differently about their interactions with one another and their awareness of the world around them. We have an opportunity having this wonderful center on campus to get students to learn and think deeply from day one. You don’t have to wait until you are in a leadership role or take a social justice class to learn how to have these conversations. I truly think these lessons will carry passed our students’ college experience more than else.”
Assistant Director of Academic Integrity, Jessie Townsend, taught his first University 101 class in fall of 2022. When he was reaching out to fellow instructors, he got a unanimous response to take the Anne Frank Center tour.
“Since it was my first time teaching, I really wanted to curate memorable experiences for my students,” Townsend says. “I knew this would be impactful for my students and help generate discussions, so I was really excited about the opportunity. I did not have the chance to preview the tour, so it was really cool to experience it with my students.”
Townsend introduced the tour to his students in the class period before and gauged their knowledge of the Holocaust and Anne Frank. He was really impressed how the tour guide interacted with his students prior to the tour to facilitate discussions on their level.
“Something really interesting I observed was that students who were hesitant to share in class were really open on our tour,” Townsend says. “They wanted to share what they knew about the Holocaust and their thoughts on each exhibit. The tour guide was exceptional at making a comfortable place for them to share and was willing to answer their questions.”
Townsend’s experience of the hiding place was very moving, and the experience was the same for his students. Isabelle Monken, a freshman in Townsend’s University 101 class was surprised by the interactive nature of the museum.
“The graphics, maps, photos and timelines were very impactful,” Monken says. “I knew the story of Anne Frank, but seeing the space recreated helped us understand her story more fully. It put Anne’s story within the context of American and Jewish history and told her story with a broader perspective. I think most freshmen come to school with a small foundational knowledge of the Holocaust, so it was cool to grow in this area.”
Townsend was impressed with his students’ reflections on their experience. His students were able to compare Anne’s experience to their own histories and synthesize that information in new ways. He hopes that more students take advantage of the opportunity during their time at USC.
“We are the only university in America with this offering and the number of artifacts and information they have is just amazing,” Townsend says. “It is crazy to me that Columbia, S.C. is the home for this collection, and we are very fortunate. I would pitch this opportunity to every University 101 instructor because not only is it an educational experience, but it’s something your students will remember beyond their time as students.”