Thoughts at the Start of SPP

Through SPP, I am anticipating learning to further recognize the ways in which opportunities for peacebuilding and conflict resolution surround us on a daily basis. In preparing for the course, a theme that stood out is the role that reflecting on our own biases, perspectives and values plays in taking initial steps toward a society that is free of violence. One quote that I found to be especially poignant is from Johan Galtung’s 1990 article, Cultural Violence, and how “it changes the moral color of an act from wrong to right, or at least to acceptable. It makes reality opaque so that we do not see the violent act as fact, or as violent” ( p. 292). Peacebuilding encompasses a huge spectrum of topics and societal challenges; having an idea of where to begin can seem like an impossible task. This quote reminded me of the need of assessing society’s morals in the process of peacebuilding, because violence is frequently sewn into society in ways that have become normalized, leading to a failure to fully recognize injustices as an immoral act of violence. A society’s assessment of their morals must begin with individual reflection, and this individual reflection could begin a process of determining how to create a society where cultural and structural violence is not apathetically accepted. This journey of reflection is a small step that I believe seems like an attainable starting place, which I’m sure will be integrated in many creative ways throughout the coming weeks.

Before beginning my studies at MIIS this past January, I was a history teacher for an academic semester program (The Traveling School), where I traveled with my students throughout South America and Southern Africa. I was inspired to learn about the wisdom, stories and experiences of indigenous cultures, whose voices are not heard as the loudest voices in society. A theme of my learning was the ways that communities of color are influenced and limited by structural violence across the globe. Throughout this position, we learned through texts and heard through experiential learning about how justification of violent treatment on ethnic or racial minorities continue today. Those that are seen as ‘inferior’ have existed to serve the needs of the dominant race/class throughout history, and systems are in place to maintain these hierarchies. My studies and teaching abroad contributed to my passion for seeking to understand why these systems of thought and associated injustice arise, their impact throughout the past and present, and tangible ways that seeking to form equitable societies can rectify these wrongs. Gaining perspectives about how structures of violence operate throughout the world is fascinating and important, and it has reminded me of the necessity of addressing conflict resolution here at home. It is just as important to dig into how these structures operate in our backyards, and seek to illuminate our own role in hopefully bringing attention and action to these issues.

With one of my wonderful Ecuadorian host families

I am looking forward to all aspects of this program, but am especially eager to gain greater insights into how violence operates in relation to the prison epidemic and gang issues in the US and in Monterey County. This issue warrants great attention because it is so often hidden from discussions in mainstream media. I have recently been reading an excellent and disturbing book called The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, which is about how our societal conscious and unconscious biases have served to create a system of control through prison and parole that concentrates discrimination on non-white races and ethnic minorities, and treats them as disposable members of society. This system all too commonly serves to neglect these individuals and groups, as opposed to addressing the root causes of the opportunity gap in our society. I am excited to learn from local organizations and practitioners about their work on this complex issue. I expect that through SPP we will have the opportunity to consider why these forms of structural and cultural violence have been implemented and become accepted, and multi-dimensional approaches to chipping away at these deep seated issues. I expect it to be one important phase of a much greater journey for us as individuals and professionals, and one that I am happy to be able to share with this group of insightful classmates.