Herbert Hirsch was a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, but in his life, he brought his academic talents far beyond VCU. Hirsch lectured across the globe in places such Australia, England, Ireland, Germany, Sweden, and Brazil. He was also one of the co-editors of Genocide Studies International, a journal published with Toronto University Press. But his achievements within the political science field are not his only memorable feats.
Students at VCU understood Hirsch as a passionate man. Hirsch taught a common entry-level course at the university, United States Government. Non-political-science majors lucked out in having either Hirsch or Professor John Aughenbaugh, two excellent men capable of intelligently acknowledging and discussing the atrocities that have occurred within the American political system.
As a professor, Hirsch made it clear from the first class of the semester that his teaching would be going straight to the point. He knew he had students who were tired of hearing the nonsense trotted out at the elementary, middle, and high school levels, perpetuating falsehoods about Columbus being a successful leader for the western world, or the Civil War having been about states’ rights.
Herbert Hirsch wanted the truth to be shared as a source of empowerment for the student body. He wanted his students to be upset, either with him or by him. Hirsch understood that knowledge is sometimes ugly and sometimes chaotic. He knew that skating over political issues integral to the American political climate, whether in a historical or a modern context (although Hirsch himself would argue that modern and historical contexts intersect one another), was an injustice to society.
For his students and fellow faculty at VCU, Hirsch was more than an accomplished educator — he was a great man. He pushed students through college who wouldn’t have made it otherwise. He taught in a manner that was beyond simply educating the masses, and altogether, he succeeded in driving home his passion for justice. Those influenced by him will remember his message: to get out in your community and “stand at the front of the protest, not the back.”
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