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Scholar of Violence, Agent of Justice

Lee Ann Fujii ’84

A leading political scientist, Lee Ann examined the motivations behind interpersonal violence in Rwanda, Bosnia, and the United States. She was an associate professor in political science at the University of Toronto and leaves behind nearly two decades of extensive research into genocide and political violence.

She was born in Seattle to parents of Japanese descent who met while interned during World War II. Her brother, Carey, remembered that everyone in the family expressed their views forcefully. Lee Ann was outspoken and once had a run-in with her high school teacher after refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. Her parents’ internment may have influenced her career path, he says, because “she always wanted to make the world better, to right social injustice.”

At Reed, she majored in music, and wrote her thesis, “A Reconsideration of Metastasian Opera Seria as a Dramatic Form through an Analysis of Handel’s Serse,” with Prof. Leila Falk [music 1969–2009]. After graduation, she moved to San Francisco, where she worked a number of different jobs, got involved in theatre, took workshops, and acted in plays.

Jumping back into academia, Lee Ann earned a master’s degree in international relations at San Francisco State in 2001 with a thesis on the genocide in Rwanda. She earned a PhD in political science from George Washington University in 2006, taught there for several years, and moved to Toronto in 2011.

She made use of her theatrical background to enliven her lectures. “She could command a room,” said a UT colleague. “She had an incredible presence.”

Lee Ann’s innovative study of violence examined the complex reasons behind individual behavior, allowing that complex individuals were full of contradictions and dilemmas. She believed that the emotions of research subjects were important, and that one could get deeper and more meaningful data by seeing people not just as research participants, but as human beings. In her book Killing Neighbors: Webs of Violence in Rwanda, she posed the question that drove her research: “How do ordinary people come to commit mass violence against their own neighbors, friends, and family?”

At the time of her death, she was at work on a second major book, Show Time: The Logic and Power of Violent Display, examining how many violent acts are choreographed to make an impact, as in the lynching of African Americans in the United States during the Jim Crow era. She wanted to make the point to North Americans that shocking violence is not confined to other parts of the world.

Lee Ann mentored other women of color in pursuing academic careers, helping them navigate the landscape. In a 2017 posting on a political science website, she argued that the “abhorrent lack of diversity in our discipline keeps us collectively deaf, dumb and blind to the larger world around us, the very world we purport to analyze and explain.”

She was visiting her terminally ill mother in Seattle when she caught the flu, dying only a few days after her mother passed away. Lee Ann is survived by her brothers, Jeff and Carey.

Appeared in Reed magazine: September 2018

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