I See You

By Magdalena Castillo

This is my father. His name is Miguel Castillo and he is a Dominican immigrant who came to this country at the age of 26, for me. He left his language, culture, career, family, friends, and undeniably delicious cuisine only to be welcomed into this country with consistent pull-overs by the police in Denver, Colorado; an event that took place so often that he thought it was just a normal part of the new American culture he had to adapt to. 

In a sense, that was true, and still is. Police pull over and shoot minorities–but especially black men and boys– as a result of structural racism in this country. It is so ingrained in our culture, that instead of fixing the institutions created to oppress the underrepresented, it’s easier to just learn how to cope. Smile at the cops. Never leave your house before assessing your car (especially your headlights). Make sure you always say “yes sir” and comply. There has been an issue with the system, and while I have always understood that there are good cops as a concept, I have never seen them.  

I came into the presentation curious and with an open mind, which I’m thankful for because I came out of it a more evolved person. I agreed with a major part of the presentation that the largest part of violence by firearms is because of American culture. “How much is the cops fault?” was a quote that still stuck with me 24 hours after the discussion and still does. It made me realize that, yes, cops need to be held accountable for unlawful shootings and there potentially needs to be better training for those joining the police force, especially in susceptible-to-crime neighborhoods. But in order to fix that we need to fix the issue of racism, the lack of access to resources that allow young children to join groups and tools that allow them to have a space of belonging that aren’t dangerous (in the case of gangs), and education (among many other factors). Chief Kelly showed compassion not only for the young people whose lives were affected by arrest or shootings as a result of gang-related activity, but for the problems that got them to be in that position in the first place. It showed me the humanity in cops that I didn’t initially focus on prior to this talk. I felt shivers down my arm when he told a story about him demanding that his officers take off their masks and gear when a child was witnessing his family member being arrested. I felt a smile crawl onto my face when he told us that he implemented a program that put place-based officers in neighborhoods that needed extra attention. The sole idea that cops gathered with a community of minorities and got to know them and understand them to me represents an important step towards peacebuilding, which is to rebuild broken trust by coming together and understanding each other’s culture, history, and dynamics. I commend Chief Kelly for supporting and starting that program, and it’s unfortunate that due to funding, it had to be expelled. This was another great reminder for me–before I critique I must first learn the whole story–it’s not as easy as just putting in beneficial programs like that. The program needs to be funded, and when there is no money dedicated to these services, it makes peacebuilding in local communities that much harder. 

I was honored to have been in that room and to have been part of such a thought-provoking conversation. While I still have questions and concerns with some of the arguments made, I left with more knowledge, more empathy, and a feeling that I had a lot more thinking to do. Bad cops exist. There is a larger problem with the justice system and the police force. But there are great cops out there. Ones that care about their communities and do what they can to take responsibility for issues they see in the towns they are in charge of. If my dad reads this, I want him to know that some cops are on his side, and if there are more cops like the one I met, then there is hope for a better future with less fear. 

I see you now, good cops. 

I see you. 

Culture, Conflict Resolution, and Human Rights

Image source: www.amnesty.org/en/

Disclaimer: These opinions are all my own and do not reflect Amnesty International as an organization.

By: Megan Salmon

Confession: I have always been passionate about human rights, I work closely with Amnesty International, and I want my future career to be in human rights. Thus, I enter this conversation acknowledging that I have some preconceived biases and that I have a high stake in this conversation. It is for this reason that I write this blog as I am of the opinion that those of us that want to work in international human rights must carefully consider what they are really doing and its implications, and in some cases, rethinking the entire field. This is going to be difficult for me. Let’s begin.

In today’s class with Kevin Avruch about culture in relation to conflict resolution, we had an in-depth conversation about what exactly culture is and what that means to us as peacebuilders. Of course, when we discuss culture (especially indigenous/native cultures), there are always very distinct arguments coming from both the cultural universalist and the cultural relativist sides. The universalist argues “in the end, we’re all humans with the same rights. There exist oppressive flaws in some cultures that infringe on these human rights which we must work to change.” On the other hand, the relativist argues “who are we to govern culture? Every culture is human and valid, so human rights do not exist in a singular form. We must understand and allow cultures that differ from our own.”

I take issue with each of these positions. As someone who aims for a career in human rights, I have often heard the rhetoric of the universalist, and up until I took a Middlebury course of international humanitarianism (shout out to Professor Stroup), I bought into it. I am no longer so sure and the short time we devoted to this topic in class today did not seem to do it justice. It is for this reason that I have taken the challenge upon myself to further reflect on human rights and culture and the implications of leaning toward either viewpoint.

First and foremost, the universalist argument is just as idealistic as it is Western-centric. There is no concealing this. It is naive to convince oneself that the human race is so similar in its conceptions of reality that human rights will function in the same manner in each society. The world is so vast and the human experience differs in every person that experiences it. How can we argue that there are basic ideals that can and will persist in the same manner in every corner of the world? Further, it is privileged thinkers in the West who have the agency and resources to discuss, research, and consider the field of human rights so what we generally accept as basic human rights must be examined through this lens. Human rights are shaped by their holders, so it is nearly impossible to define a set of “basic” human rights that everyone views as essential.

On the other hand, the relativist argument is just as retroactive as it is ignorant. In the field of human rights, it is safe to say that although there is a lot of work to be done, we have come far with making the world a more equal place. If we simply validate every culture no matter what it is, what do we make of the progress we have made with female genital mutilation in Africa, Asia and the Middle East? Its logic reverses the progress that we have made for international egalitarianism. Further, it ignores the very fact that oppression, degradation, torture, enslavement, murder, etc. etc. are all morally wrong in a sort of transcendental way that all humans and cultures innately understand in some form or another. While the infanticide exists in some Indian cultures, those individual cultures still recognize that murder is wrong. They simply do not see infanticide as murder. Arguing that this part of the culture is still valid is ignorant to the fact that murder is simply morally wrong on a transcendental basis.

So are peacebuilders and human rights advocates, where are we to lean? Both seem like bleak options. I hope to explore this topic further as we dive deeper into the program, and I look forward to writing another blog with a more exhaustive perspective on this topic. However, at the moment, these are my thoughts and I leave you with them:

As peacebuilders, human rights activists, and general international do-gooders, we must always address our biases first before deciding whether a practice in a culture should be altered. We must ask ourselves, for example, if we view hijabs as oppressive because we fear them, or because we are questioning the patriarchy that created them. Further, we must analyze whether they are still being used for oppression, or if they have become a reclamation of identity and rebellion for the community, much like the term “queer” for the LGBTQ+ community. This is just one case with many nuances and implications, but it demonstrates that even a single aspect of culture can do multiple things for the field of human rights. In summation, through reflection, objectivity, collaboration, and time, we can hopefully begin to uncover the answers. At the moment, I still believe in basic human rights that every single person on this planet should have access to. Exactly what those rights are, however, is yet to be explored through this program. Now, I am going to sit in bed and rethink this entire blog post.

Good Cops Do Exist

***EDIT 2020: This piece no longer reflects my views on policing.

Dajuan Howze, 13, battles for the ball against Pittsburgh Police officer Gino Perry while Zone 5 police commander Jason Lando waches. The officers played a pick up basketball game with local youth during the Homewood Community Day celebration.
Source: https://www.publicsource.org/police-push-community-outreach-revised-anti-violence-strategy/

By: Megan Salmon

To some, this is an obvious statement, even going so far as to say that the majority or all cops are good. However, for many of us on the political left, especially in this field of peacebuilding, and including myself, this statement is radical. As a black woman whose father has been unjustly harassed by police forces due to the color of his skin, I do have my reservations with the law enforcement and have never really looked to them for a responsibility in violence prevention. Cops are just here to clean up society from the bad guys, right?

Well yes, that is correct. But again, many of us lefties question if the bad guys being cleaned up are truly the bad guys. And we’re right to question that. Much too often, the people imprisoned are not the real bad guys, but simply marginalized by an institutionally racist system. Basic stuff, of course. This is hard to prevent though. As much as we like to blame police for these racist practices (which, don’t get me wrong, in some individual cases we can), the racist system is entirely too large to place the burden solely on police practices. They are a symptom of a much larger problem of a structurally racist society which will take generations and generations to fix. Yet, people are still dying and wasting their lives away in unjust prison sentences. How can we rectify the system of policing now when the structurally racist system will take so long to fix?

That is where the role of law enforcement in violence prevention steps in. In order to reduce the overall negative effects of racist police practices in the near future, we need law enforcement to familiarize, humanize, and normalize itself with its communities. Programs such as CASP open doors to relationships between the community and its protectors so that there is more trust in the law enforcement system, less youths turn to violence, and there are less people for biased individual cops to harass.

In order to do this, as mentioned in today’s lecture, law enforcement must understand the community and outreach itself to it. Understanding the community will familiarize the enforcers with the enforcees so that police are able to refine their enforcement techniques in accordance with the context of their town. Outreach to the community will further humanize the police force so civilians feel more comfortable with their presence– preventing situations like Brazilian favelas where trust in law enforcement is so low that it has become a situation of increased violence. Finally, and this is where I disagree with the lecture today, demilitarization of the police will normalize officers to citizens, solidifying the whole process. It will work to reduce the “god complex” that many individual (and even departments of) police, especially in small towns, hold on to in order to create fear.

Of course, this is not a full solution to the question of racially-charged police brutality. It is however, a start. Law enforcement can and should have a role in violence prevention. And yes, good cops do exist.

Small Field, Big Perspectives

By: Ariana Falco

Reflecting on this first session took a while to do. There was so much information to process. Some of the information was a good recap for me, being that Avruch was my professors professor, it was nice to see the information passed down. From reflecting on the origins from Galtung and Lederach and seeing how relatively new this field is, it makes me happy to be a part of this journey. My takeaway with that is the feeling of being apart of this new big journey for a hopeful future. Another piece in Avruchs lecture that i found interesting was his interpretation of the diagram with concern with self and concern with others. Thus far in my education with peacebuilding, I’ve learned that Compromising is the end goal to achieve. Avruch took this a step further to say the optimal goal is Integrating, and maximizing strategy. This was an interesting concept to walk away with and seeing the different perspectives within this field. 

The second lecture on the topic of Belonging was a bit harder for me to wrap my head around. It was fascinating to see the history of evolution tied with war and extinction but looked at in more of a lighter note. She addressed the concept that in order for there to be change, things must be broken first, which I agree with. The part that was hard for me to grasp was how theoretical the whole conversation was. There was no definite way for us to come up with a global definition for a sense of belonging in a matter of hours. This is something that will take place over centuries and the systems must be broken down in order for this to happen. I thought this was an interesting topic to discuss and a fun conversation to have but for something to relate back to peacebuilding I found it hard to make the connection. Another point made in the conversation by a classmate was that technology is dissociating us from our words and history like letters used to. He used the comparison of creating a photo in a darkroom to that of using your cellphone to send a text. I agree that we have lost our personal touch when it comes to the digital world, even though everything is stored on the cloud and there is coding for all of our messages and online presence, it is not the same as handwriting a letter or burning an image. 

My thoughts after the first day came to the conclusion that there are multiple perspectives when it comes to this work. Each individual has their own past that they apply to situations which can make it very personal to them. These stories are important to share and communicate so that we can learn from one another and help to progress our academic career. As I continue through these next two weeks, I hope to apply my perspectives in conversation more and find more steps to the “never ending questions”.

Reader, this is Me

By Zoe Jannuzi

All—

My name is Zoe. I’m 19, and I’m from Baltimore City. I’d like to start with a couple of quotes. I’m not sure why, but I’ve always been drawn to words, I’ll be the first to admit they are incredibly imperfect, yet I’ve spent my whole life collecting them. When I was little it was phrases from movies I’d watched or books I’d read. Now that I’m older, it’s more often something funny a friend said or something wise a teacher said. The notes app on my phone is full of quotes, most of which I’ll probably never go back to, but that struck me in some way, and at that point in time warranted writing down. When I read books, even for fun, I’ll keep a bookmark covered in page numbers, marking down pages with insights I particularly enjoyed. Throughout this session, you might see me pull out a tiny notebook and jot something down. Don’t be alarmed, I’m just casually recording your exact words for perpetuity.

In the previous paragraph, I wrote “Now that I’m older…” which is kind of misleading as I’m still only 19. I think part of the reason I’m drawn to quotes, especially in writing, is because, as a fairly young person, I mistrust my written word (perhaps more than I should). My favorite quotes are the ones that evoke a feeling I understand intuitively, but couldn’t previously express. In our verbal language-centered world, the words you speak are often used to make judgments about your character. Although I believe that in conversation personal word choice is incredibly important, I also think that you can learn a lot about a person from the words and phrases they borrow, find important, and hold dear. The language we respect shows a lot about who we want to be. As I’m still in the very beginnings of life, I want to figure that out as deeply as possible.

When a person speaks to me I begin to understand who they are. When a person shows me the parts that stand out to them in their favorite books, their favorite quotes, or which lines they’ve highlighted in last night’s reading I begin to understand how they see the world.

So… in an attempt to start to show you how I see the world, I’ve copied some quotes both from the background readings for this course and from my recent life. Of course, words are imperfect, and we all interpret things differently (one of the most remarkable things about our diverse planet) so you probably won’t see them as I do, but maybe you’ll stumble upon one that holds meaning for you. At the very least if you love or hate one we could have a great conversation.

From my recent life:

“Justice is what love looks like in public” – Cornell West

“Connection is the ultimate Patronus” – Aditi Juneja

“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we do not lead single-issue lives.” – Audre Lorde

“Ever seen too many midnights for no good reason?” – Hanna

“Radical humanization” – Sa’ed Atshan

“legitimate peripheral participation” – Edwin Mayorga

“History is an endlessly interesting argument where evidence is everything and storytelling is everything else.” – Jill Lepore

“I’m a father. Finding some way to be optimistic is part of the job description. But also I believe that critical optimism is a political necessity. Pessimism gives rise to nostalgic politics, and nostalgic politics tends to be racist, xenophobic, exclusionary, regressive, and very, very dangerous.” – Mohsin Hamid

“Our lives are remembered by the gifts we give our children” – Milo Thatch, Atlantis

“I’m a superficial work in progress” – Anna

“Sectionalizing the past does not always help to facilitate discussions around them” – Diego Armus

From the readings:

“If human needs were satisfied, would serious violence at all social levels then be avoided?” – John Burton

“There is a tendency within the development community as a while, not merely that portion dealing with postconflict situations, to seek “solutions” to problems that can be applied more or less universally. Although there are many similarities among postconflict communities, wholesale application of approaches that have proved successful in one postconflict environment may well be ineffective or even counterproductive in another postconflict environment.” – Nicole Ball

“Whether we are dealing with children, street gangs, ethnic communities, or nations of peoples, we are finding that there are human problems to be solved, and that no amount of coercion or repression can for long contain human developmental aspirations.” – John Burton

“Violence is here defined as the cause of the difference between the potential and the actual, between what could have been and what is.” – Johan Galtung

“… there is no reason to believe that the future will not bring us richer concepts and more forms of social action that combine absence of personal violence with fight against social injustice once sufficient activity is put into research and practice. There are more than enough people willing to sacrifice one for the other – it is by aiming for both that peace research can make a real contribution.” – Johan Galtung

“The voice of intelligence is drowned out by the roar of fear. It is ignored by the voice of desire. It is contradicted by the voice of shame. It is biased by hate and extinguished by anger. Most of all, it is silenced by ignorance.” – Karl Menninger

I’d like to end with a quote that is much less pleasant, something that the man who currently occupies the role of President in this country said about my city. Of Baltimore, Trump tweeted “no human being would want to live there” along with a slew of other racist insults. Being from Baltimore has shaped the way I see the world in an invaluable way, and my home city is one of the major reasons I’m interested in peacebuilding. I love my city. The best part of me would like to believe that Trump’s remarks come only from a place of ignorance, but the more parts of himself he shows the world, the more I think they come from a learned hatred of the other. I doubt anybody you meet in Baltimore will deny that it is a city with its fair share of problems. But simply criticizing a place, the structural violence ingrained in its institutions and the personal violence beings carried out by its people, is not a step towards building peace, nor is it respectful or dignified. Among many other things, during these three weeks I hope to learn how I can begin to build peace with people who think so differently than I when they see Baltimore they think not of all types of loving friendly people, but of rats, garbage, and crime.

Where it all Began

By Magdalena Castillo

As I sit here at the Denver International Airport waiting to board my flight to Monterrey, I reflect on my experience with peacebuilding so far. Nerves set in as I worry that I’m not qualified enough to be part of such a prestigious program. I’m only 20 years old, I’ve only taken a handful of classes related to this practice, and I have never been a part of a family that has dealt with war-related trauma (one of the first things that used to come to mind when I thought of the word “conflict”). I’ve always felt like my exposure to conflict has been very limited, as I have been fortunate enough to attend good schools in safe communities and I’ve never had a family member in the military, for example. But after my last course at the University of Colorado Boulder, we observed several different types of conflict and I learned that conflict doesn’t always have to be large-scale violent acts. It can be the more small-scale, invisible, and subtle like what I’ve always known. Like the minorities in my internship at the Center for Inclusion and Social Change on campus who feel like they can’t succeed academically because of the lack of resources and support from school administration. Like roommate disputes over who’s cleaning the apartment which day. Like political elections. Or like the conflict that first made me recognize how important the field of peacebuilding really is.


In the country of my family’s origin, the Dominican Republic, I mostly have beautiful memories there. But the memories that stain my vision are the ones of discrimination and division that the Dominican people press upon the people of Haiti, their neighbors. As a child sitting in a nice car full of Dominican citizens hearing foul things said about the hardworking Haitians selling toys in the middle of the highway, I just couldn’t understand how two countries that share the same island could be so different and I especially couldn’t understand how the Dominican people were so unwilling to help the Haitians (or at least not be so hateful towards them). Ever since I first started realizing this non-violent conflict, I became increasingly interested in the field of peace building. The Haitan-Dominican conflict isn’t always physical violence; it can be invisible violence that nonetheless carries a heavy weight and needs peacebuilding.
Conflict isn’t black and white, it’s a blanket term that covers a widespread array of circumstances. I am eager to find out more about it and discover new ways of resolving conflict on any level, whether it be inter-personal or international. I hope to leave SPP with newfound knowledge and resources to inspire change, but most importantly, I wish to leave here hopeful for the future after meeting several amazing individuals dedicated to peace building.

Finding my place in Peacebuilding

By: Óscar Cejudo Corbalán

“There are stages and sets of interrelated though very different skills that must be coordinated” – John Paul Lederach

The first memory I have of reading about peacebuilding brings me to a paragraph included in the article Civil Society and Reconciliation, by John Paul Lederach. Less than a year ago, I was assigned to read this piece for our Intro to Conflict Resolution course, and when reading this specific segment, it felt as if the author was talking directly to me.

It was my first semester studying my Master’s Degree in International Policy and Development, and my first theoretical approach to the field of Conflict Resolution (or Conflict Transformation, or Peace and Conflict Studies). Before that, I had completed my studies in Architecture to soon realize that my heart and my head were closer to the fight for Social Justice than it was to the noble and fascinating task of designing and building spaces. For this reason, I walked into a series of volunteering experiences that inevitably lead me to the desire (and need) to know more about the theories behind the practices. I came to study to Middlebury Institute, and I chose to focus on Conflict Resolution and Social Justice: because conflict is the ultimate expression our social struggles, and it is also a window to transformation.

In the article, Lederach proposes a beautiful and very clear metaphor (as usually happens with him) to explain what peacebuilding is. He suggests that peacebuilding could be understood as building a house. A house, he explains, “requires a vision, often contemplated early on in the architectural design, which provides an image and a direction.” However, (and I can testify to this) the initial design will be revised multiple times depending on many factors and specificities that will vary for each different project (terrain, structure, materials, plumbing, water evacuation, electrical engineering, air-conditioning and heating systems, fire protection system, etc.) Moreover, for all these different aspects there will usually be different professionals that will have to coordinate to produce such a complex and interrelated work.

What an elegant and efficient way to bridge my former career path with the one I am trying to get into! And beyond the anecdotic coincidence, what a great way to start understanding what peacebuilding means. In a world so immersed in conflict, Peace becomes an extraordinarily ambitious goal that can only be achieved by the cooperation of practically every component/discipline/system of our society. If we fail to take in to account all the aspects that shape our reality, we will probably fail. It was challenging and inspiring; and it reinforced my decision to start walking this path.

Despite (and probably because of) my limited experience in peacebuilding (that does not go beyond the receiving end of the academic setting), my interest and eager to know more has only increased since then. Summer Peacebuilding Program presents itself as a unique opportunity to keep learning and growing about such a complex field. I am excited to hear from scholars whose articles I have read for my Intro to Conflict Resolution course (such as the one from Lederach), and practitioners from organizations that I have been looking up to in the last year (since I entered this field). I am also eager to absorb as much as possible from the colleagues I will be sharing the experience with. I hope the sessions and activities raise a lot of questions, many answers, and even more questions from those answers that will keep pushing my curiosity for the field. Moreover, I hope to obtain a critical view of peacebuilding, to learn the reasons for skepticism and the potential (or actual) cons of the approach.

In essence, I would love for this experience to help me in the search for my path in the constantly expanding field of conflict resolution. I wrote at the beginning that I felt the author was talking directly to me, this was not (only) referring to the link Lederach establishes between my two realms of studies. When I decided to shift my career path, I was really skeptical on being able to actually contribute significantly to the field. Any discipline that works with/for society (the so called social sciences) has such a complex and ambiguous task in hands, and I had the feeling it might be late for me to step in the field since my foundation was a mix of technology and arts. However, Lederach text was inspiring, it was telling me that I (as anyone else coming from any other background that share the vision of peace) have a place in Peacebuilding, and I want to find my place.

Peace and Physics

By: Sarah Inskeep

If my experience thus far is anything to go by, I imagine there are some questions lingering about what physics has to do with peace. The simplest answer I can give echoes something written here previously by Kim Chham: that peace is a goal toward which contributions can be made from all fields. Though academically physics and peacebuilding seem quite different, in many ways the subjects they work with are intertwined.

For me, the conceptual connection is that both are about problem solving – about understanding the dynamics of complex systems and seeing how each part relates to the whole. In a more concrete way, however, the connection may be most evident in the various applications of physics research. Oftentimes a discovery has the potential to be both very good for humanity, and also very tragic. So, while I am fascinated by the study of the universe for its own sake, when I look at the things happening in the world I cannot help but feel that in our quest for understanding in the universal scale, we’ve overlooked some very important things on the human scale.

It’s understandable, in a way. Though physics is known for its ability to explain many things, and for the sometimes counter-intuitive truths it reveals to us about the world we live in, most physicists I’ve talked with will candidly admit that the human side of things is the much more difficult. Nevertheless, a significant number of renowned physicists and mathematicians – perhaps most notably, Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer – have called for a greater understanding of our relations with each other, and for an end to the use of violence as a means of addressing our problems.

Professor Albert Einstein giving an anti-hydrogen bomb speech for NBC at Princeton University in 1950.

I’ve so often heard it said that peace is an idealistic aim, a dream that is not aligned with the way the world really is. Though I spent much of my childhood thinking of what a more peaceful world would look like – both on the small scale, in my own divided family, and on the big scale, in the stories I heard from veterans returning from deployment – I came to a point where I wondered if those things I heard were true. This, in part, was why I turned to physics. I wanted a more concrete way of understanding. Finding, then, that those who dedicated their lives to studying the world ‘the way it really is’ also called for and believed in peace has inspired me to return to the questions I always asked growing up: what would a peaceful world look like, and what can I do to help make it a reality?

The search for answers to those two questions lead me to join the Summer Peacebuilding Program. During the academic year most of my time is dedicated to physics – in addition to classes, I work as a teaching assistant for the university’s descriptive astronomy class and as a research assistant in a plant ecophysiology lab contributing to the Long Term Ecological Research Network (LTER). While I have taken a number of classes for my minor, conflict analysis and trauma studies, that relate to the field of peacebuilding, I have had little chance thus far to see how the concepts I study apply to the world in a more concrete way. Thus, I am very much looking forward to the experiential aspects of the SPP, and to learning from those who have dedicated their lives to this work.

Peace: my name and passion

By Diana Garcia

My last name is Paz, which means Peace in Spanish. One will believe that after a lifetime of repeating it, the meaning of the word would be evident and superfluous to define. However, after 20 years of seeking for the definition, I am still unsure of what it is and what it looks like in real life. The only certain thing is that Peace is beyond being my identity, is my lifelong passion. Thankfully, the quest to define this concept has led me to several enjoyable activities, projects and adventures.


I first concretely got involved with peacebuilding, when at 16 years old along with a friend, we created a foundation. It was located in a disfavor zone of Mexico City – my hometown- where organized crime was prominent. The omnipresence of violence in the neighborhood affected negatively the youth of the community; it was dangerous to play outside and often joining these groups seemed like the only option or at least the most profitable one. Thus, we created a safe space where kids and teenagers, could play soccer – our national sport- and get access to educational tools such as talks on conflict resolution and sexual education. Although we did not solve all the problems of the community, we contributed to the construction of a better social cohesion and improved tools for dispute transformation. In June 2016, we received the “Best Realization of a Startup” prize by Numa Institute Mexico and the French Embassy in Mexico.
Later, my passion for peacebuilding was accentuated when I discovered Model of United Nations. I love solving conflicts through debate and negotiation even if they are just a simulation. I was also inspired by the fervor of all the young people that participated and were so invested in the construction of a better world. I went on to create the first MUN conference and team in my high school and nowadays I am the Secretary-General of my college’s team. Ever since I discovered this academic activity, my goal has become to one day work at an international organization to participate in the construction of sustainable inclusive peace.
This same love for conflict resolution and peacebuilding lead me to study Political Science and International Studies with a concentration in Human Rights and Humanitarianism at Macalester College. Saint Paul (MN) and Mexico City are pretty different cities; in Mexico, the biggest threat is organized crime, in Minnesota, the biggest danger is the cold. Nevertheless, my new community is not exempt from conflicts. My experience with peacebuilding in my college community has been in the realm of gender and sexual violence. I am the co-chair of the organization Feminists in Action-Students Together Against Rape and Sexual Assault and a sexual health peer educator. These two groups work against gender and sexual violence, through the organization of workshops, conferences, and events. It is a way to construct peace on our campus since sexual violence is a problem that gravely affects our community. 
Moreover, ever since last March, I have collaborated with the Institute of Economics and Peace in NYC and Mexico City. Although I have executed several activities for peace construction with them, the two most meaningful ones for me were giving a “positive peace and violence prevention” conference/workshop to sergeants still in military school. As well as creating a study group with different sectors of the civil society for the study and analysis of victims of the current Mexican violent context.
Furthermore, in December 2018, along with a friend I created the initiative Nuestra Paz. It is a project that works to integrate young people in the Mexican peace process. Through a survey, we collect youth’s perception of the general violence situation in Mexico City, and what they imagine peace would look like in their communities. Based on their responses, we develop local solutions in collaborations, multiple actors. I presented this initiative at the 2019 UN Youth Assembly and it was awarded the Live It fund.
I hope that during my time at SPP I will obtain the pertinent tools to create sustainable positive change in my country, Mexico. For the past year, I have been involved in increasing youth participation in the national peace process. In SPP I will be able to enhance my abilities for conflict analysis and management, and thus, make my work more impactful. Moreover, I would love to be part of this program to gain from the incredible faculty, a broader vision of the world and to have a better understanding of how conflict is a vehicle for change. I believe that thanks to this experience I will obtain the materials and skills to use for the construction of impactful comprehensive actions to change the situation of violence and inequality in my home country. Furthermore, I look forward to exchanging ideas with my peers and hopefully engage in a trans-national project for peacebuilding. SPP offers the perfect opportunity for me to continue developing my passion for social justice and my will to change the world.

Am I Peaceful?

By Megan Salmon

I like to think so. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to work in international human rights and social justice. Yes, it’s a very strange career goal for a first grader, but when I saw a documentary about Martin Luther King Jr., I felt like I had a calling. I’ve always said that I am 100% dedicated to serving anyone and everyone the rights and peace that they deserve. Social justice and peace became an integral part of my identity.

And yet, I guess I’m not so sure. I’ve also been a powerlifter my whole life. I wouldn’t define powerlifting as the opposite of peace, but if you can imagine a gym filled with huge men and women thriving on the idea that they are physically strong enough to win any fight that comes their way, you may not assume it is peaceful either. Further, I am the captain of my rugby team. It’s competitive, impulsive, violent, dirty and overall just a complete mess of people knocking each other as hard as they can to the ground. I think I’m peaceful but at the same time I feel very attached to these aggressive physical outlets in my life. There was a time while I was growing up that I became unsure of my own assertion that I was 100% dedicated to peace. How could someone with such “violent” interests be a peacemaker?

I started to realize, as I’m sure you do reading this, that these are just sports and they are not reality. Sure, I’ve broken a few girls bones in my day. Maybe even a lot of bones. But that doesn’t mean I’m not peaceful since they’re just sports, right? I could still say I was 100% dedicated to peace. This is where I began to have a problem.

If I continued to assert that I was 100% dedicated to peace, I had no evidence as to why. I knew that my aggressive sports history wasn’t evidence as to why not, but I realized that I wasn’t proving myself to be an advocate for peace. A peaceful person brings peace about to others, not just says that they are dedicated to it. I began volunteering, working with Amnesty International, advocating for political causes that served social justice, and local nonprofits that made real connections with people. I learned that this is what being “peaceful” really was, if you could even call it that. It wasn’t because I said I supported peace, but because I stepped out of my house and tried to make someone else’s day better each day. To me, this is the real intention behind peacebuilding, and I think SPP is going to help me discover more effective and larger-scale ways to do just that.

I like to think I’m peaceful, and not just because I support social justice, human rights or peace. I like to think I’m peaceful because I’m finally learning how to extend that support into real change for others.