For the past few years I have wanted to attend the National Community College Peacebuilding Seminar run by David Smith. This year I was finally able to attend. It was four pretty intense days and I’m still trying to process all that I learned.
There were about 18 people from colleges across the country from Long Island, Orlando, San Diego, Seattle, and a few locals from Maryland. What struck me was the variety of disciplines that were represented. There were political scientists, a nurse, writers, sociologists, an ESL teacher, and even a graphic designer. Some were professors, others administrators, and we also had a graduate student from GMU’s School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution. Another thing that was notable, but perhaps not surprising, is that with the exception of the graduate student, all the attendees were female.
On one of the days we visited the United States Institute of Peace, the Department of State’s Diplomacy Center, and we also visited the Lincoln and MLK memorials. The other days we were at the GMU Arlington campus and several speakers were brought in to talk to us about a whole slew of topics, some very theoretical and others gave us practical exercises and activities that we could use with our students.
I became more interested in peacebuilding after I started working with the Community College Initiative Program and David ran a three hour workshop during our mid-year program where we bring all of the CCI participants from across the country together. I invited him to do a follow up workshop with my cohort of students later that semester and since then he has come back every year. The idea is not to push every student to become a diplomat or humanitarian worker, but to find ways to promote peace in their every day lives, regardless of their field of study.
There were a few moments during the seminar where it became clear to me that we, as a country, are dangerously close to spinning out of control and the need for more people to actively engage in peacebuilding is imperative. The first came when were were talking about definitions of peace and violence and more specifically, structural violence. As Daryn Cambridge from EPIC listed the examples: overconsumption, scarce resources, inequitable distribution of wealth, patriarchy, gender inequality, biased education system, segregation, institutional racism, under resourced schools, and poverty, I couldn’t help but notice that to some degree or another all those things are present here.
The second moment came when we were talking about issues in the Arabian peninsula. Dr. Imad Harb from the Arab Center described that a hybrid regime is one which ostensibly is democratic, but all of the elected officials are 100% loyal to the ruling party, so there really is no opposition. Anyone who dares oppose the ruler, loses his seat, or worse. It occurred to me that we are half way there. Only those Republicans who are not running for reelection dare speak out against Trump for fear of being mocked on Twitter and then primaried. Mark Sanford is one of Trump’s latest victims.
The third moment was during the presentation by Michelle Breslauer from the Institute of Economics and Peace. She talked about the latest Global Peace Index. The United States is 121 out of 163 countries that were ranked. We’re in between Armenia and Myanmar. The rankings are based on a multitude of indicators, 23 to be precise, including ongoing domestic and international disputes, societal safety and security, and militarization. Some might wonder why we aren’t in the red. (In case you are wondering, Honduras, where the caravan started, is 118.)
I left the seminar feeling a sense of elevated concern about where our country is heading, but also with a glimmer of hope that there are smart and dedicated educators who are so passionate about teaching peace to their students.
Tomorrow is election day and I hope everyone exercises their right to vote. And after you vote, think about how you can be a peacebuilder in your community. If you need any suggestions on how to start, let me know.