Gender in All that We Do

Dr. Sunjata Moorti came in to speak with us about the role of gender, specifically, as it relates to peace and conflict. She had us introduce ourselves with a bit about our relation to gender, and it caused me to think back to my senior year of high school where I put together a final presentation on gender roles for my favorite class (one that fused language arts and social studies for all 4 years within a community where freshman, sophomores, juniors, and seniors were all mixed in classes together). I highlighted several advertisements that reinforced ideas that boys should be builders, loud, rambunctious, and like things like guns and cars, while girls had toys that almost always tied to motherhood (e.g. baby dolls, my little pony, etc.) or life in the domestic sphere (e.g. easy-bake ovens). I chose this topic because I am (and was then) a feminist, and I strongly rejected the notion that gender was a binary and static. As I really developed an understanding of in my undergraduate career, gender is on a continuum and fluid. This means that everyone has traits that would fall into the categories of “masculine” and “feminine,” and no one is a perfect image of one of the two, and it also means that ones conceptualization of gender changes over time and with new experiences. This doesn’t mean that everyone “changes” genders, but rather that their gender will mean (slightly or significantly) different things, and could be expressed very differently throughout one’s lifetime. In thinking of gender, I also remembered the strong influence I gained from an inspirational feminist to me, Kimberlé Crenshaw, who coined the term “intersectionality” to describe the interconnected nature of various aspects of our identities (e.g. race, gender, sexuality, etc.). Since coming into contact with Crenshaw’s work, I have internalized this concept and applied it as a lens to view the world, especially in my work promoting social justice. As we discussed in class, this concept was also crucial to the 3rd wave of feminism in the US from the 1980s-2000s, which recognized that there is not singular category woman, and that intersections of all aspects of one’s identity shape their notion of “woman.”

Development also had different stages of how it addressed “the woman question,” beginning by focusing on women as mothers through fertility control and maternal health,  moving into a focus on economic empowerment and income generation, then a recognition that changes in women’s lives also affect men (moving from focus on “women” to focus on “gender”), and finally a focus on girls, with education being the primary method of “delivering equality” under a neoliberal framework. I enjoyed our discussion of how feminists put human rights as a central tenet of peacebuilding, and focus on transformative justice over restorative justice. I had been familiar with the differences between retributive and restorative justice before, but I am now more partial to using the term transformative after asking “what are we restoring? and should we be restoring that?” This matches perfectly with the differences between conflict management (like retributive justice), conflict resolution (like restorative justice), and conflict transformation (like transformative justice); the whole idea of seeing a conflict as an opportunity to change unjust structures and systems of power means that you are seeking transformation, rather than an easing of tensions and violence (management) or end to the particular conflict without a change in the structures that caused it (resolution).

Making Space for Peace

We were able to gain a geographer’s perspective on peacebuilding from Dr. Guntram Herb, who built on Johon Gaultung’s notion of peacebuilding as creating self-supporting structures that remove causes of war. He did so with a focus on scale, place, and space. With any conflict it is important to view things from multiple angles, and scale speaks to that, emphasizing that if you only look at it from one perspective, you will either not have the detail to see important nuances and intricacies, or you will have some things beyond what you can see from one position. For a peacebuilder, this can involve a stakeholder analysis and view of what the problems are from each persons perspective, then try to synthesize all of this into your vision for transformation. “Place” is also important to consider as a peacebuilder. A sense of place that people feel when they have emotions and meaning tied to a location–an example being Jerusalem being a holy city for numerous faiths, and a site of contention as a result. This highlights an important aspect of place, which is that it is not about something with a clear inside and outside, but rather a process.

A third and crucial element of geography and peacebuilding is space. Space can be topographical/measurable, as is typically thought of, but there is also relative and perceived space. Relative space being based on linkages, so, for example, I will feel like I am very far from home if traffic is heavy and I’m exhausted, even if I am only a few miles away; or I would feel that swimming across a pool is easy, but not if the pool had great white sharks and I had a cut on my leg. An example of perceived space would be the difference a space holds in the day compared with at night, which can then have more of an impact based on ones identities. In its essence, space is the “meeting place where relations interweave and intersect.” Space can therefore be used to control–such as segregation practices in places like the United States and South Africa, or forced relocations of Uighurs in China or Adivasis in India. In relation to segregation, space can act as a barrier–this led me to immediately think of 8 Mile Road, which separates Detroit from wealthier cities and has historically been a racial line that used to be strictly enforced to keep black people south of it, within Detroit city limits. However, space can also be crafted as a facilitator of peace, and this can happen in everyday spaces where people interact.

Discussing this led to a video project, where I collaborated with Travis to tell the story of the Chinese immigrants who started Monterey Bay’s fishing industry and California’s squid fishery after establishing a village on Point Alones in Pacific Grove. This story is mentioned in the signs along the Coastal Recreation Trail, but not in much detail, and especially without detail on the fire that burnt the entire village to the ground in 1906. The success of these immigrants from China was soon envied by white residents of the peninsula, who, reacted with direct and structural violence. They enacted local laws that prevented fishing during the day for Chinese immigrants, constantly dehumanized them, and eventually burnt the village to the ground, laughing as the Chinese residents fled. Although we aren’t able to “prove” this, many similar Chinese villages along the coast suffered the same fate after discrimination from whites. The story we told of this event related to modern-day Monterey, which is still mostly white, and reveres people like John Steinbeck, author of Cannery Row. On the Recreation Trail, this Steinbeck quote next to a mural of white people sitting together stands out, speaking of the working people as they leave: “the dripping, smelly, tired Wops and Chinamen and Polaks, men and women, straggle out and droop their ways up the hill into the town and Cannery Row becomes itself again-quiet and magical.” The notion of the “magic” only being present when the poor and unwanted leave is seen today in the police sweeps that push homeless people away from streets in Downtown Monterey and away from everyday spaces where they could meet the eyes of tourists. The main point we were driving at was that Monterey’s Rec. Trail could be transformed from an everyday space that overlooks and essentially erases history–leading us to repeat it, into one that facilitates dialogue around the true history of the success of one of the major industries for the Bay. This assignment and our discussions with Dr. Herb were very enlightening on how I could utilize space as a peacebuilder!

Violence: A Terrible Disease

The first day of our last week of the Summer Peacebuilding Program started with Dr. Joseph G. Bock on health challenges and peacebuilding, where we discussed violence as a disease. Violence is considered in this framework because, like an infectious disease in populations, it will form clusters, has the ability to spread—usually in waves, and it involves transmission from human to human. One benefit to addressing violence as a disease rather than a moral issue is that moral issues have various interpretations and sources of moral authority. By addressing it as a disease, you can address it systematically; going for the larger clusters of violence, preventing it from spreading, and as a result, diminish the likelihood of further transmission. Transmission can be accomplished by witnessing violence or having violence enacted upon you, and there is plenty of evidence to show that those who’ve experience violence in one of these two ways are more prone to reproduce it.

One example of addressing violence as a disease was in Chicago’s Ceasefire Program, now referred to as CURE Violence. Dr. Bock spoke of this program and the difference it had to Operation Ceasefire that started in New York. The Operation Ceasefire is a more punitive approach, coming from a criminal justice perspective on violence prevention that requires multiple levels of government coordination. On the other hand, CURE Violence is a more restorative approach, addressing violence as a public health concern, seeking to interrupt transmission, identify and change the thinking of highest potential transmissions, and change group norms.

We first came across “Operation Ceasefire” and the practice of call-ins with Julie Reynolds Martinez, who explained how federal agents (e.g. FBI, ATF, DEA, etc.) show gang members who have been identified with large amounts of violence the evidence they could use to arrest them and their fellow members but provide them an opportunity to change. The local law enforcement, along with community members, will then speak of how they would prefer these gang members to be better citizens than in prison, and show them that they could be welcomed. This combination of threat of punishment and an avenue for communal acceptance has shown success in some cities but ended after only 1 call-in in Salinas. I was able to ask the Chief of Police in Salinas about it, who explained that not all of the agencies were willing to work together in this process and keep it going—ideally, they keep up with these gang members to track progress, and since it didn’t happen, she is hesitant to start it again until all the necessary parts are in place. She added that she plans on addressing this to be able to implement the program in the future. Perhaps there is a chance that both this approach and the CURE Violence approach could benefit the city, if there is effective collaboration and a clear consensus on goals and how to achieve them.

Peacebuilding: More Empathy, Less Ego

This past week has generated a lot of reflection on where I see myself in the field of peacebuilding. While visiting two prisons in the Salinas Valley, I was able to add complexity to my understanding of compassion and of empathy. I have had very critical views of the criminal justice system, and especially the role of incarceration, as I have seen and read of numerous ways that it actually prevents a chance at rehabilitation. This view was challenged by the Prison staff who showed us their facility and some of the programs they have that allow for educational enhancement and substance abuse counseling, which I believe are often times necessary if there is to be a chance at reintegration. At the same time, the physical structure of the prison, and the separation of prisoners based on the severity of their crimes can reinforce violence, and could be partially responsible for some of the violence within the prison. I was able to empathize with those controlling the prison and those within it, though this was not because I overlooked the fact that many are working as guards to get a check, and many prisoners did end up there because of crimes they committed–some crimes that could drastically alter my ability to have compassion for them if I had know. Instead, I saw compassion as an understanding that no one is static, and empathy as the ability to see everyone as human.

This was important for me to keep in mind as we visited the Salinas Police Department, as well. I have always believed that the work police officers do is important, and that they can be wonderful community leaders, but as I’ve learned more about systemic injustice and how it can manifest at the hands of police, I am much more skeptical rather than trusting. This also relates to my opposition to the militarization of police departments, which I encountered in Salinas. This huge armored vehicle seems as if it belongs in a war zone, not being driven by those meant to “protect and serve” the residents of Salinas. However, speaking to the officers who allowed us to view this vehicle, I was able to empathize with why it was there and why the SWAT team used it up to 50 times a year. Hearing them say that this allows them to do certain things like enter the home of gang members who would shoot on site without risking an officers life, I understood the fear I would have as a cop without a shield from the bullets. Without being able to empathize with something I opposed, I would not be as effective in my questions, nor in viewing things fairly. The concept of fairness was on that we discussed in a debrief after visiting the prisons, as it is preferred to false notions that we can be objective or neutral. It is a balance of taking a stand to match your values, but understanding that your values are not universal and may need to be complimented with the perspective of those in conflict.

While in Salinas, we were able to meet with several members of the Community Alliance for Safety and Peace, who are committed to preventing further youth violence, and addressing their community’s needs as they stand. They discussed several methods for how they are trying to shift the community’s mentality from retributive to restorative justice, including having some of these practices work their way into schools, working with young people outside of schools to provide alternatives to joining gangs, working with parents and providing historical facts that have exacerbated violence and concentrated it in communities of color, and, perhaps most interestingly, utilizing leadership that can focus on injustice without responding from a place of fear and anger. CASP members added to that last point by saying that this leadership can’t come from those in government, so they sought local organizations with the social capital and capacity for communal leadership to take on this role. At the same time, members of CASP that are involved with city and county government agencies are providing training on “governing for racial equity” so that the local efforts can be complimented with changes in actual policy and governance. This kind of collaborative work is what is needed to address the complexity and ambiguity that often characterizes the issues peacebuilders attempt to address, and the ability to let go of ego and allow those most qualified and able to relate to a community’s needs to lead is something I hope to see in more institutions aimed at peacebuilding.

Everyone is Human

“Everyone is human.” These words were our introduction to Salinas Valley State Prison (pictured below) and came as a bit of a shock to me. I knew that the sentiment was true, and I strongly agree with the meaning behind it, that everyone is deserving of dignity, but I did not expect this to be so explicit by a Lieutenant about to give us a tour of the prison he’d worked at for over a decade. This clearly reflected a bias I had of what someone working in a prison thinks of those occupying cells, and a bias I was quite pleased to check. This also made me hyper aware of how this tour could be very biased if we didn’t get a chance to talk with any inmates and only heard the Correctional Officer (CO) perspectives. This was reminded to us by two inmates in different yards, who both made it clear that “if you want to know what really goes on here, talk to us, not the Cos.” Hearing this, I understood that there was truth in these words, and that we were hearing a different reality from the CO’s perspective. However, we had to keep in mind two important points: first, one CO or prisoner’s perspective will not encompass all the views of each CO or prisoner, respectively; and second, since we are there to learn, each “side” will have a bias in wanting us to take something away. COs are likely not going to want to leave us with a bad impression of how inmates are treated, and inmates are likely looking to tell their story of how the system has wronged them. Both have the potential to be true, but not everyone in prison is treated well, and not everyone in prison is innocent. 

The dynamics in the prison yards were fascinating, and very different depending on which yard people were at. The lowest level of security was in a Special Needs Yard (SNY) for those who would be at risk of being killed in the general population yards—includes child molesters, those who’ve dropped out of gangs, gay men, and anyone else who wouldn’t survive in the gang-centric yards. This yard was also unique because to get in all it takes is a request from prisoners, and they cannot be denied. At the same time, they can’t return to general population yards unless they were sent by a gang as a “sleeper” to kill someone, in which case they would be welcomed back to their gang in the other yards. SNY still had gang dynamics, but they weren’t divisions along racial and regional lines, as is the norm in prisons. The other yards were populated on a point system, with high points meaning more secure. A stark difference to the loud, energetic, coexistent SNY, the other yards were completely self-segregated by gang and race, with each having their own turf. These gang members would spend much of their time in the yard just staring at each other, ready for whatever could pop off. They also focused on discipline through exercise drills, which also served to keep these “soldiers” battle ready at all times. Their reality is always being surrounded by danger and living in fear; not an ideal environment to change in.

Although we were able to walk through an SNY and general population yard, I didn’t ever feel in danger or afraid. This didn’t have anything to do with “being tough,” but instead was reflective of the power we had in being visitors—the riflemen stationed in towers with various vantage points in the yards were the ultimate protection for us, not to mention the numerous COs with batons, mace, etc. that stayed near us. Power was a very strange concept in prison, especially since a common narrative among COs was that the prisoners ran the prison, and they were “just there,” often referencing the difference in numbers and the viciousness of the gangs. A seemingly fair point when you learn that these gangs get all kinds of drugs and other contraband in despite this being a maximum-security prison, and the fact that weapons were made from anything, and guards were quick to share that they knew about half of the members of some gangs will always have a weapon on them, despite searches and metal detector wands. However, it sounded completely hypocritical to me, considering there were always officers in towers with guns fixed on the yards, and they controlled when the doors to cells open, when they eat, and everything else that routinized the inmate’s life there. While I am more understanding of why guards say that inmates run everything after hearing of the intensity of the gangs, I cannot accept the disregard of power that it takes to make that statement true.

Diving a bit deeper into the gangs, we learned from Julie Reynolds Martinez—an investigative journalist whose knowledge of the system is invaluable—about the history of the 4 main gangs that originated in California prisons, and have now been spread all over the country and bled into communities outside of the prison. There is the Aryan Brotherhood, who have a reputation of being the most ruthless and violent, mostly because they are the smallest of the main gangs—not a surprise given the demographics of the Salinas Valley and the propensity of the criminal justice system to prosecute people of color at absurd rates compared to whites. For Latinos there are two options, the Mexican Mafia, which is historically associated with southern California prisons, and the Nuestra Familia, with origins in northern California prisons. This split between Norteños (northern CA) and Sureños (southern CA) came with perceptions of the former as having been in the US for a few generations and supportive of the Cesar Chavez and the UFW (United Farm Workers), and the latter being first generation or immigrants from Mexico or other Central and South American countries themselves. Nowadays these divisions are much less clear, though when entering prison, you will be assigned a gang if you aren’t in one already, and that will be based on your race and where you’re from. Finally, there’s the Black Guerrilla Family, which stemmed from the Black Panther Party and was very political at its origin, which has now split into Bloods and Crips. The Bloods and Crips have different turf in the yards, but will help each other if one is attacked, unlike the Latino gangs, which perhaps relates to black solidarity carrying over from the Black Panther Party influence. There is another gang in general population, mostly made up of Asians, but will occasionally accept members who may not fit the other categories. The one thing that connects all these gangs in the yard is business; money, in this case, doesn’t see race.

These gangs developed connections on the outside when members started to get released and continue the business and gang life outside the prison walls, along with using women to carry messages, drugs, etc. These gangs originated in the notorious Pelican Bay State Prison (pictured above), and it was because of an attempted solution that they ended up spreading. To address the growing power of these prisons, the now famous Robert Muller—who then worked in the office of the U.S. Attorney in San Francisco—decided to charge the leaders of the gangs with federal crimes so he could move them to Colorado, far from their gang in California. They didn’t account for the potential for this to then spread the gangs through the federal system, gaining them national prominence. This also underestimated the sophistication of the politics in these gangs, who had constitutions that said the leadership needed to be in Pelican Bay, leading to a battle for the top among the generals. Needless to say, new leadership formed, and the gangs remain.

While this history is fascinating, it doesn’t speak to why the gangs started. Was it in response to the conditions they faced in prison and a desire to form an identity, community, sense of safety, and revenue source in that environment? Perhaps, and perhaps prisons became more controlling in response to these gangs and the violence that they brought. I think the answer involves both these notions, but this begs the question of what to do now. Is it wise to split up the prisoners based on their points so that the gangs are practically forced together? Does keeping them in this environment really provide a chance for rehabilitation? These were the thoughts bouncing around my head at the end of our time in Salinas Valley State Prison. In the end, those behind the bars are just as human as those controlling when those bars open and close. It’s important to be held accountable for one’s actions, but we are all human, and that means we must critically examine what “rehabilitation” actually means and what kind of justice is best—retributive or restorative.

Understanding Gang Violence

Today’s topic was incarceration in the United States, with a focus on gang violence. It is impossible for me to read or talk about gang violence in the United States without thinking back to my two years of service in two Detroit schools because of the impact this kind of violence had on students and the larger community. The high school I served at was within what’s known as Detroit’s “red zone” because of the prevalence of Seven Mile Bloods, a gang that included some of my students and several of their family members. There were bullet holes in classrooms in this high school, and at each school I served at, there was at least one day that I heard gunshots very clearly within a few blocks of the school grounds. One student showed me the scar from where a bullet passed through his calf muscle, adding that he was shooting at the person who shot him in the middle of the street. Another of my students brought a gun to school, in relation to an insult to his gang by another student. There was a gang-related deeply traumatic event that resulted in the death of several students and grief of the entire community; a part of my service I will never forget. I’d never seen communal emotion so raw and full of pain.

(the neighborhood within Detroit where I served and, at the right hand corner, “The Red Zone”)


The thing about having guns and gangs around you all the time is that it’s normalized, but still impacts your mental health negatively because of stress, fear, distrust, trauma, etc. To add to this, children are expected to learn in schools that are often severely outdated; sometimes falling apart, full of mold, infested with cockroaches, and with unsafe drinking fountains. I was at schools that had food programs—one included breakfast, lunch, and dinner—because a number of students get their only meals at school. Hunger was a very real issue, and in a food desert, like much of Detroit is, that means cheap snack foods, sugary drinks, and fast food dominate the energy many of my students ran on. An additional factor in this is the low levels of literacy in the city, to the point where students in schools around the city testified about their conditions to the Michigan Supreme Court only to be denied the “right to literacy” they fought for. I say all of this to show why it was so easy for my students to “fall off” and lose interest in education because they didn’t see a future that brings them out of the life they know. However, this doesn’t mean they don’t have dreams. I had a number of students talk about their future life of dealing drugs and making money in a romanticized version of gang life, then speak from their heart and tell me about dreams of becoming an engineer because they love math.

What I’ve described in the above paragraphs is the school-to-prison pipeline that is pervasive in low-income communities of color. These students live and learn in an environment most people couldn’t imagine and would be especially shocked to hear that this is the case in the United States. All of the factors combine to make school less effective and crime more appealing, and when these communities are heavily policed, which is almost always the case, it is not difficult to find oneself behind bars. Seeing this happen to several of my students was absolutely crushing, and made me admire the teachers, administrators, and police officers who really looked out for these kids because they lived in that environment too and see a potential in them that they don’t want wasted in a gang. What I learned in this environment was that it takes a village to raise a child, and a village to keep them. There are systemic changes that need to be made for us to see a significant change in gang violence, but that change starts with showing gang members support, love, and acceptance—the motivations of many for joining a gang in the first place. It takes lots of local peacebuilders working in conjunction.


I am aware of the reputation that Detroit has within Michigan, the US, and the world. It is not a good reputation, but it is also a magnificent and beautiful city with a rich—and often times troubled—history. Due to this reputation, I have developed a habit of never speaking of the issues facing the city without talking about something good happening at the local level. This “something good” is the Live In Peace (L.I.P.) Movement that was started by a pastor—Pastor Mo—who believes that too many young people are living so they may rest in peace, and he wants them to know what its like to live in peace. He and his crew go out in the city to liquor stores, gas stations, popular Detroit restaurants, and high schools to promote messages of peace. They also sometimes serve as a “peace force” when there is a community gathering that might cause people to bring guns with the intent to use them, and they use their presence—not guns—as a defense. I’ve seen this peaceful force at work while at the funeral for the students who died in the tragic event I mentioned earlier, and them being there with their shirts that say, “Live In Peace,” and the corresponding message they brought really did make a difference. This was not a top-down directive that resulted in some superficial change, but a grassroots effort that is playing the long-game and trying to reach out to kids before they join a gang or soon after. This is one example of a community leader responding to his city’s needs with a solution that the city actually needs.

Today, we had the privilege of speaking with Willie Stokes, who’s dedicated his life’s mission to preventing kids from joining or staying in gangs in the Salinas Valley. His ability to draw from personal experience and the understanding of what it takes to join a gang gives him a connection that he can build from to form relationships that allow a new perspective to work its way through the layers of defensiveness that gang members often have. This method by no means guarantees a good outcome, but there are positive effects and success stories that highlight the transformative power of this kind of work. I was inspired after hearing Willie’s story and learning of the incredible work he is engaged in now. The question I’m left with is how can we make these efforts more common practice/institutionalize them? For now, I will hope that their success will speak for itself and in 20-30 years people will be wondering why anyone ever “gave up” on gang members, labeling them inherently bad and incapable of change.

Who Decides Peace?

Throughout the week, after conversations on religion’s influence on conflict, the impact of water on the world and creative solutions to scarcity, the importance of understanding economic factors that drive conflicts, how one might go about evaluating conflicts considering the nuanced nature they have, and several others. This speaks to the variety of people it takes to actually build peace in any community or larger society. It cannot be a single person, no matter how incredible they may be. I often think of Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu when thinking of the concept of reconciliation because of the role they played particularly in the years leading up to South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994 and the following decade or so. Though both of them were incredible, they’re still human, which means that their efforts were in conjunction with countless others, and that they weren’t without their faults; there are many issues related to “reconciliation” in South Africa with some upset with the lack of accountability in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and economic disparity along racial lines. Reconciliation is not easy for any country, and it cannot be actualized by those at the top alone. As John Paul Lederach has commented on, saying that it takes people working from the grassroots level to be building peace in conjunction with those at the top, which is a process often facilitated by middle-level institutions.

We spend most of one day this week with Dr. Bridget Moix discussing this process of coordination between local peacebuilders and international efforts aimed at building peace. Dr. Moix works at Peace Direct, an organization that believes that everywhere that has conflict also has local peacebuilders and that these locals often have ideas of what it takes to respond to and prevent conflict. I’ve been drawn to this view of peacebuilding in seeing many problems with conventional models of international intervention in conflicts, including the top-down nature, colonial roots, formulaic solutions, etc. Some concepts particularly interesting that came out of Dr. Moix’s research were that peace agency, or one’s ability and desire to become a peacebuilder in some sense, is more about human connection than it is about one person’s choice. This speaks to the concept of “relational responsibility,” where one person’s closeness to those impacted by conflict or closeness to conflict themselves implores them to work toward resolving that conflict. This means anyone can be a peacebuilder! The kind of peace that can inspire peace agency, impacts the “everyday,” is driven by local efforts, and supported by larger scale institutions is a peace that I believe can sustain and reach all levels of society.

Nonviolent, but Militant…

“…nonviolent, but militant, and as dramatic, as dislocative, as disruptive, as attention-getting as the riots.” These were Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words to describe the movement as part of his Poor People’s Campaign—his final endeavor as he was assassinated during it. I have often taken inspiration from MLK Jr., especially once I stepped away from the white-washed depiction of him that dominate many school curriculums during Black History Month. Rather than a paraphrased Dr. King who only spoke of racial harmony, ideal society, and nonviolence without much detail, I began to learn more of the real King who was very clear about what needed to be done and how to grab attention to ensure the rest of the country knew what racial discrimination and modern-day remnants of slavery looked like for people of color. Dr. King was fierce in his condemnation of the injustices he saw, and summed up the type of action it takes to effect lasting change with these words:

In conversation with Kazu Haga, Founder of the East Point Peace Academy and Kingian nonviolence advocate, I felt so inspired in viewing nonviolence is not only transformative, but also as a concept that often requires disruption. In this sense, it was similar to the nonviolent philosophy in which Gandhi lived by and I’d learned of before, but Kazu explained in detail the nuances of King’s perspective on nonviolence. On building the “beloved community,” King said that it takes fierce vulnerability, which is expressing your emotion by saying how things have hurt you, rather than projecting your hurt onto others in words or action. This difficult step speaks to King’s first principle of nonviolence, which is that it is a way of life for courageous people. The specific notion of courage that I will strive to apply in my work as a peacebuilder, is one that Brené Brown speaks well to:

Peace is an Art Form

The first day of the Summer Peacebuilding Program focused on the role that media and the arts can play in the process of peacebuilding. It began with the reflective and creative tool of freewriting, with prompts about our passions and the most essential components contributing to our desire to do peacebuilding. In writing a clear path my life has taken towards peacebuilding in 5 minutes (covering significant experiences that instilled or strengthened my core values), I felt surer of going into this field than ever before!

Lindsey Doyle, Co-Founder of Media and Arts for Peace, talked about the need for people to see progress in order to be inspired or maintain momentum, emphasizing the importance of creative means to move people that can be shared around the world. One point that stood out from our discussion was that art is an expression of creativity, and in order to navigate through the complex and multifaceted nature of conflicts, creativity is required. I hadn’t previously considered political cartoons to be “peacebuilding,” but I realized that they certainly can be used that to aid in the process of building peace, e.g. challenging common narratives that overlook what really matters. One great example we discussed was of the Palestinian-Syrian cartoonist, Hani Abbas, who serves as an example of art that can evoke emotions useful for transformation.

Another useful application of the arts is help heal from trauma. This was something I’ve witnessed song, rap, storytelling, and dance all play a part in the healing process after a tragic event that impacted a community I previously worked with. Additionally, I found myself drawn back to studies of modern forms of resistance in China while reading of movement performance as a means of resistance. This was a creative protest that involved a lot of people organizing online to walk very slowly past a government building at a certain time to show resistance after a recent attack from police on a nonviolent protest. This ingenious method allowed for an expression of unrest with relative safety in a country that had just shown severe consequences to more conventional protests and demonstrations. Reflecting on how I’ve already seen and benefited from the usefulness of the arts for peace and processing emotions gives me confidence I’ll be able to use these kinds of creative means constructively in the future.

What Led Me to the Summer Peacebuilding Program

During my undergraduate years, I majored in Global Studies with a focus in the humanities, as well as the Chinese language. I knew that I wanted to attend graduate school, and to make use of my passion working in intercultural settings that value unity without uniformity. As I looked at schools across the country for a program that could take me across the world, I felt another of my core values—service to something greater than oneself—needed to be addressed in communities I’d worked with in within Michigan. I chose to commit a year of service with an AmeriCorps program in Detroit allowing me to work as a full-time tutor and mentor in a high school, and then middle/elementary school when I committed to another year. In this role I sought a greater impact by getting to know people in the community and building relationships. I often found myself in the role of preventing, responding to, and attempting to ease tensions that flared up among students. Having a network of relationships and having some context of my students’ lives beyond school was hugely beneficial in my role. This experience, as well as the act of having forgone graduate school for 2 years to feel more connected to my own values, really had an impact on the focus I would then put on my search for graduate programs.

I decided to come to MIIS for a great number of reasons that made it the right fit for me, among them was that there was an opportunity to focus on conflict resolution and social justice. Through the classes I’ve taken on campus in Monterey, as well as my peacebuilding program experience in Gujarat, India, I have gained inspiration to work toward social justice utilizing the lenses of conflict transformation. Viewing conflict as an opportunity to truly transform structures that have led to power imbalances, religious turmoil, or systemic oppression gives me hope when I become engulfed in the news of such structures throughout the world. My hope in taking the Summer Peacebuilding Program is that I deepen my understanding and ability to utilize the theories and tools relevant to the field of conflict resolution and gain a stronger sense of where I can go after MIIS that will allow me to put some of them into practice.