Bridging Conflict and Terrorism: Is it Possible?

By Ariana Falco

This lecture was hard for me to comprehend coming from a family with a military background and trying to understand different perspectives without my bias being present. I have to keep in mind that not all people in the national security spectrum are the same and that is something I am still working on. 

Speaking in the realm of the United States, often times the word terrorism does not overlap with conflict studies. I found this to be shocking news from today’s presentation with Qamar Huda. His focus was on Education in Conflict Studies. When asked to ponder the question of how we know peace based off of our education, I reflected on wars and how they were looked at as a celebration bringing peace after winning. This has been something I have thought about before, but never in my realm of Peacebuilding, more so in general history. This question should be pondered by many. How do we define peace within our education system? Are we taught peacebuilding practices? These questions are something to think about throughout my post. Try to hide the general American pride ideologies and think about what really happened in wars, not just from the U.S. perspective. 

Referring to what I said in former blogs, there are systemic issues that need to be changed. Do we need to reconstruct our entire education system in the US? I would answer yes. There is not enough money being funded into school to provide extra activities for students to teach them real life skills, let alone peacebuilding skills. Being drilled questions regarding math and science is useful to an extent. How are we teaching the future generations to thrive in a society without giving them social skills to subdue violence? The answer is that we aren’t. Why is this not being talked about?

Not only do we need to change our education system, but the systemic issues that cause fear in other areas. An example of this that we discussed is the difference between Freedom Fighters and Terrorists. The difference was the way the media and state markets them. Throughout my whole childhood and even today, we constantly refer to them ‘Terrorists’ without giving a thought to what’s behind that definition. In order to understand Violent Extremists, we must understand conflict. In order to solve conflict, we need conflict resolution. Alongside the resolution we need peacebuilding. These are not the same and should not be confused, both are needed. Everything narrows down to this factor. To me this idea was hard to grapple with and I think it is something that should be thought about far past the classroom. We should discuss and question how the state displays things for us. If we don’t challenge anything, no change will come.

Pragmatic Pluralism: Is it Problematic or Practical?

By Ariana Falco

My familiarity with this topic comes from my philosophy background. I am familiar with the concept of pluralism but at a very surface level. This presentation given by Laurie Patton was very informative and lead to many thoughts. I have personally been grappling with the idea of religion and its comparisons in philosophy but hearing this version of it was intriguing.

 In the past I have only known religion as functioning separately without crossing over. Each has its own sanction and values that individuals believe lead them to a transcendence of life. 

Disclaimer: I know this is not true for all religions but most contain some sort of afterlife

A thought that the conversation started with was that we must cross out tolerance. Why? In order to understand religion we need to look at it not in the abstract, which is where tolerance stands, but rather in the concrete real world sense. We must move from tolerating to sustaining for this to happen. This allows us to wrestle with the values of religions. Religion lives off of a relationship of interdependence where one religion needs another in order to be itself. We were told many stories of how religions cross over, care for, and rely on one another for love and accountability. Religions need differentiation based off of the biodiversity model. I agree with this idea. Most religions need one another to function and even sometimes for their beliefs to be true. In order for pragmatic pluralism to be integrated into everyday life, there needs to be a discussion and understand at the interpersonal level all the way to international level. This is where things could get messy. 

Earlier I touched on making this topic concrete and not just abstract, could this truly be done? I personally believe that religion is a hard topic to grapple with and to get people to have a discussion about. Many religions are not only faith based but lifestyle and value based as well. For a person who lives out their religion each day, it might be hard for them to be accepting of another that differs from theirs. This is where conflict arises and I find it hard to see how this can work. I do however believe that it is ingrained in our system as human beings and we cannot just ignore religion if we want to build a peaceful future. In the long term I do believe that a common understanding of multiple religions is possible, but this will require massive amounts of work. For example, Christianity, which is the leading religion in the world, followed by Islam. Christianity states that everyone should be a follower of Christ and as a follower, you must convert others to believe in it. How can we have Pragmatic Pluralism if some religions goals are to convert all of the others to follow theirs? This question has really stumped me but sparked my interest in learning more about the topic. Is it problematic or practical?

A Snapshot of My Thoughts

By Ariana Falco

I would like to start off this blog by saying this was the hardest part of the program thus far. We visited the Salinas Valley State Prison and Correctional Training Facility. I have never seen the criminal justice system displayed this close to me so it took me a while to debrief on it. My thoughts are still digesting this hard topic but I feel that it is necessary to explain them, and an experience that I will never forget. 

Visiting the Salinas Valley State Prison showed me a lot that is wrong with the media. Going into that experience I only knew what I had seen from the TV shows, but anticipated that it be different in person. I was pleasantly surprised by my assumptions, but shocked by the truth, this sounds confusing but I will explain. In the shows you see men being treated horribly by prison guards and being shaped as animals. I found it very hard to look at these men as animals. We are all human, no matter what. Initially seeing these men locked up in cement walls was hard to comprehend. When we walked through the yard and saw that we were feet away from them, I broke my own heart. I was initially scared, and then realized who am I to be scared of these men? They were friendly, saying “Hello” and “Have a good day”, simple human acts. Now, I am not discrediting that all of these men had done something to put them in there, I am a believer that justice should be served, but in a humane way. This leads me to my next thought, the programs put in place to enable change within the men. I was shocked to see a library and school rooms next to the prison yard, for men to go when they please and get help. The program that stuck with me the most was the “Ruff Start” program. The SPCA would bring in dogs that were available for adoption, and allow the men to help train them. I felt hope through this, not only from seeing it in the men’s eyes, but from seeing humanity brought back into the prisons. A dog brings out love in a person, and you could automatically see that through these men. I do not know their stories, but can guarantee that it gets lonely in those cells. This gave me hope that out of our messed up systems, some things were beginning to change.

The next piece that resonated with me was the hardest. We had the opportunity to go to Yard D which is a maximum security yard. In this yard there was a wing with open cells that we were able to step into to see the inside of the cells. Getting into that building felt just like all of the others, what was different was the silence within the wing. When we arrived in the wing the Correction Officers controlling that center opened up some cell doors for us to go into. Stepping into the cell felt cold. We had the option for them to close the door on us which they did, nothing compares to the sounds of a cell door slamming shut on you. No way to get out, locked in a closet sized room, with another person, for years. I am not, by any means, trying to put myself in another persons shoes, just simply trying to educate myself so I can better understand for the future. This experience had a lot more to it but these are the moments that stuck out to me that will be in my thoughts for a while.I would just like to end this conversation by saying this is what the taxpayer money is going to. These are the men that the public’s money is going towards to help serve justice and breed reconciliation, and we need to learn more about it. 

Lastly, I would like to touch on the subject of the police. We visited the Salinas Police Department where we were in discussion with the Chief of Police, Adele Frese, and three Commanders. This conversation was interesting to see the other side of the police compared to what the media presents. I had a lot of questions after listening to the officers but overall, it was enlightening to hear their views and be open to seeing the other side. I think these experiences both brought a once in a lifetime educational value that I will continue to research on. These have sparked my interest even more in peace-building and reminded me that we do not have to travel far to find conflicts to work on. Humanity is a lesson that everyone should learn and education is the pathway to it.

Is Decolonizing feasible?

By Ariana Falco

Decolonizing as a whole is a hard topic to explain and one must be in the right mindset to fully comprehend it. The concept of peacebuilding has been around for years but understanding how to break down the systemic issues plays a big role in it.

“We may have different religions, different languages, different colored skin, but we all belong to one human race.” – Kofi Annan

We all know the story of the West colonizing the rest of world and instilling its power over undeveloped countries. These eurocentric perceptions have led the world to put the U.S. at the center of ideologies. This notion is constantly being critiqued by many different perspectives. Galtung’s Center Periphery Model is an example of decolonization. The goal is not to bring people from the periphery to the center, but to expand the center to include the periphery. In Pushpa’s presentation we learned that decolonization is not simply stripping away the common white man’s identity but  many other things. Decolonization is a belief that through action, we can bring change. Decolonization is a goal but not an endpoint. These two lines really resonated with me because they show that this is not an easy thing to tackle, but a long journey. Adding onto this idea, we kept discussing chipping away at this process that was put on people hundreds of years ago. This concept of taking away something that has been ingrained in humans brains for years is a big challenge to address. That being said, I believe it must start with education. In order to change these systemic issues and decolonize, we need to educate young people and change the way they think. It is easier said than done, and the adults in the world need to uphold decolonizing views in order for it to work. This will most likely take hundreds of years to do but I believe it is possible. After learning everything from the past few weeks the one thing that sticks with me is that there needs to be a strong sense of hope in this field. If you are the type of person that needs to see immediate reactions and changes, you need to learn patience to strive in this environment. I am dealing with that issue on a personal level with all of these eye opening experiences. Being able to help right away and jump into the issues sounds great, but not practical. This is when the discussion of Lederach’s pyramid comes into play. No matter where one falls on the three levels of the triangle, all of them need help. This idea makes me feel content knowing that if I don’t follow a career in peacebuilding, I can bring these practices into my other jobs. If I can’t change the educational system because I am not on the board of education, then I can be a teacher and contribute that way. If I can’t change the systemic views of misogynistic men, I can use my strategic  communications knowledge to make Public Relations announcements to trend to spark a change.

In order to properly decolonize we must define what the center is and then expand it. Decolonizing the mind will be one of the hardest tasks society will have to face but it is necessary to have true peace. This concept is very large but finding the root causes and narrowing it down, helps us to find peace, and begin to chip away at these systems.

Building Peace for Peacebuilding

By Ariana Falco

Following up this long week, I would like to add some lighter notes to my blogs. Two presentations this week that really grabbed my attention and took them in a different direction was, “Spaces of Domination and Reconciliation” by Guntram Herb and “Can there be peace without development?” by Jerome Sigamani. Each of these presentations offered a different way of looking at peacebuilding that was not yet discussed.

The presentation from Herb was a unique way of looking at peace-building, but one that is often overlooked. He focused on the use of geography and anthropology through spaces. There are different ways of looking at space, place, and scale. Each of these are necessary pieces when it comes to peace-building. Addressing the issues of what physically and theoretically divide people are both needed equally to look at conflict. These are often overlooked when it comes to addressing conflict and building peace. Where people sit within a mediation or resolution meeting as well as what structures divide these people/groups need to be discussed. This topic brought in a new conversation that I will keep in mind moving forward within this field. I wish we could have dived deeper into these topics but I understand the importance of explaining the basics so everyone is on the same page before beginning, This presentation really made me think and the group work stimulated it even more. The second presentation by S Jerome was over the idea of an individual’s brand and how it can be curated through each person work. This work of conflict resolution comes from a passion and can not be looked at as a project. This leads to creating an individual’s brand which leads to being an instrument of peace. A main topic that was discussed during the lecture was the idea of emotional intelligence. I have personally never heard the term E.Q. but it was an engaging concept. I believe a lot of times people think of peace-building as putting other people first 24/7, which is not always in fact true. In order to properly work on others, we need to be able to understand ourselves and our brand. The concept of empathy was again prevalent in conversation which keeps reminding me of how important it is. Overall this conversation was very compelling and reminded me that there must be identity known within us before we can help others. This lesson will help me carry out other projects in my future career with this field by reminding me that we can all lean on each other for support. For me this presentation and its activities were the most peaceful of all so far and felt like it really brought the group together. From a simple task of holding each other up, to looking at a case study, this presentation did not disappoint.

Gangs and their Roots

By: Ariana Falco

This week was very topic heavy on gang related violence, which was a very eye opening experience for me. In my blog I will try to be as unbiased as possible and explain my experience, I did learn a ton of information and putting thoughts into words is not always as easy as it seems. 

To start off, we were honored to have a local journalist, Julie Reynolds Martinez, explain violence from the prison to the streets. We had a long discussion about the Nuestra Familia and how organized their gang is. Being from Colorado, I have never been around gangs as structured and dangerous as the NF. Hearing that they have a constitution and seeing the ways in which they function were very shocking. This might all be common information to people that live in inner cities, but I found it fascinating to hear about. The hardest part to hear was regarding the members and who is targeted for recruiting. The youth. Young boys starting in middle school are being recruited to do the street work for these men. Boys who can’t even drive yet are running drugs through their neighborhoods. Why do they join? There are many reasons for each boy but it boils down to one simple reason. Security. Safety for them and their family. The NF members in the prisons sell it to the young boys as working for “the Cause”, what they say stands for Conduct Awareness Unity Security and Education, which is in fact not true at all and just a lie fed to these young boys to have them do the dirty work for these men on the streets. This sense of security offered to the boys gives them a sense of belonging and somewhere they know they have an identity. The way to change this is to look at the systemic factors and what the problems are at home to make the boys need a sense of security.

We were given the opportunity to have a former gang member come in and speak with us about his experience. His name is Lou Hammonds and he shared his story with us. His journey with violence was very heartfelt and I’m very appreciative of how open he was. Lou believes that it is not a gang problem but a character defect problem. I would agree with that. Hearing that from a former gang member gave me hope. He had paid his dues and learned from his mistake and took that experience to help others. Empathy is what drives restoration. We need to understand ourselves in order to understand and help others. This is  much easier said than done but regardless needs to start being implemented more in society. We can make a change a step at a time and Lou was an amazing example of this.

Restorative Justice: Is it the end all be all?

By: Ariana Falco

Dealing with Restorative Justice.

Today’s discussion was provided by Julie Shackford-Bradley. We discussed the topic of Restorative Justice and Peacebuilding circles. We began the day in a circle and all wrote down one word/character trait that we would like to be applied to the discussion. I chose to add the word, open minded. I chose this word because I believe it is necessary to have an open mind when having a discussion with anyone, let alone multiple people from different backgrounds/origins. I believe this step was nice to ground us all before diving into a deep conversation.

After, we began the discussion about restorative justice and how it works and its functionality. I have some background in RJ from being a volunteer community representative at CURJ. That being said, hearing a different perspective on RJ was very interesting. I have only seen RJ at a local level between students on campus, never on a large scale. In my experience, RJ has worked and seems to be a great alternative to criminal punishment. There is some sense of connection and fulfillment through RJ when the offenders are able to see how their actions have affected people and the surrounding community. This being said, I have seen it work on a small scale level through student conduct, I don’t believe it works outside of that. 

Thinking about RJ on a broader perspective within our criminal justice system, I find it hard to see it working. I am speaking from a US perspective and cannot speak on behalf of other countries. Our current criminal justice system is so terribly broken that I believe it would take more than RJ to fix it. I do believe RJ may be a step in the right direction but not the end all be all. I found it frustrating to try to picture large scale situations such as murder or rape and using RJ as a means to help. Facing the person who did the crime in a calm manner would take a lot of humility and generally after such trauma, it takes time to heal. This is the piece that I struggle with when it comes to a wide scale use of RJ. I had discussions with some classmates from my point of view on the matter and hearing their perspectives were also interesting. Many of them thought that this idea was so out of reach, and if I were to have not worked with it first hand, I would agree. 

Overall I think the presentation was really informative and created a stimulating conversation. I think it is good to discuss the options to help with our criminal justice system and even if they don’t always work it is good to learn and stay curious about the topic. I do believe that RJ works in student conduct cases but outside of that I still need to be convinced.

Let’s Get Uncomfortable

By: Ariana Falco

Let’s talk about cops. Let’s talk about violence. Let’s get uncomfortable.

In today’s society cops are becoming more and more polarized each day. That being said, whoever is reading this probably has their own strong bias. While you read my post I would like you to put that bias aside and read what I have with an open mind. In practice this is harder said than done, believe me, I know. 

When Kelly McMillin came into our class I wasn’t sure what to expect. I assumed this former cop would give the plain old argument about gun control and how we need weapons and so on. To my suprise, he began talking about how he is a retired Chief of Police, and now works in the Cannabis industry, shocking to hear but definitely spiked my interest. This was just his introduction of his background, but it was a good ice breaker to know this wouldn’t be your normal cop to civilian conversation. I was wrong about that. 

Coming from Colorado, I don’t have much experience with gang related violence, but more familiarity with school shootings. In the discussion we focused more on gang related violence. With that we broke down the violence to the root of the problem, and decided that it came from the youth within the community and the need for security. We decided that if there was a way to implement more security for the youth at a young age, then they wouldn’t be so prone to join these violent gangs. Kelly said he noticed this and wanted to make a difference. He began to place cops within the neighborhoods and around the communities, to better understand the inner workings of that community. This seemed odd to me at first because cops look so militarized nowadays and putting that in the middle of a neighborhood would make me more skeptical, but that’s another discussion for another day. With placing these cops in the area, they were able to build a relationship with the community, and even greet the kids when they came off the bus at the end of the day. This new home for security helped to bring gang related violence down in the area while building more trust between the community with the cops. Trust is a big foundation that is currently lacking in a lot of systems around the world and it is slowly approaching ours. That being said, it was fascinating to hear that this program worked in such a violent area. I believe that the community alliance for safety and peace is a wonderful program that money should be going to. The problem of why this isn’t so widespread is that it costs money that cops want as a raise rather than a social worker job. So who’s responsibility should it be to take care of these kids? Who should help keep them off of the street? I believe that people don’t want to fund the social workers and the communities don’t trust the social workers like they would a cop, even though it’s ironic. That being said, this is yet another issue that needs to be solved. 

Following this topic we dove into a conversation regarding gun violence. Where does it stop? Why is it an arms race within its own country? These are questions that went through my mind during the lecture. Yes, this is a very hot topic in today’s society and will only get more controversial with time. And yes I agree with his comment that there will be no way to truly ban all guns, it’s nearly impossible. The suggestion that he made by banning the glock 40 cal and then taxing bullets changed my mindset. I hadn’t thought about that but it was an interesting concept. 

Both of these discussions were very eye opening for me and gave me hope that even cops can be open minded. It was nice to have a discussion that came from education and not from a defensive point of view.

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”.

My Introduction to Peacebuilding

By Ariana Falco

Peacebuilding is a newer term in my vocabulary. I think when people hear peace they think it is easy, but it is a difficult process. Coming from a military family, I have seen first hand the effects of war and how it affects a person. PTSD affects individuals as well as families. As a kid I did not fully understand what PTSD was, and how it could change a person. As I grew older, I took more of an interest to it and realized that conflict led to this illness; and it encouraged me to look further into peacebuilding in college whether it be large scale international conflict or a small scale personal one. This image is from Carry the Load march supporting troops and honoring them.

When I began my academic career at CU Boulder, I knew I was interested in helping people, as well as learning more about communication. I chose the path of Strategic Communications with a focus in Advertising. My goal is to be a strategist. To further my education in this field, I decided to pursue a certificate in Peace, Conflict, and Security studies. I was introduced to the program through the intro course. I took it as a general education course, fell in love, and decided to pursue it. Thanks to my amazing professor, Michael English, he has made learning about peacebuilding understandable. I especially enjoyed my conflict communication course where we learned about how to interact with others from a personal level. 

This sparked my interest in Restorative Justice. I just recently became a Community Representation for the CU Restorative Justice program where I can sit in on facilitation and help others understand how to rebuild peacefully without a harsh reprimand. This volunteer opportunity will allow me to learn more by seeing the effects first hand. 

When I tell people my academic career and the path I have chosen I generally get the “oh that’s…interesting” reaction, followed by multiple questions about why I chose this, what it is, and what I plan to do with it, because it’s often hard for people to see the correlation between these two vastly different studies. This is the reason why I love learning about peacebuilding and being able to take the knowledge learned and share it with others who are not familiar with it. Education is a vital tool that sparks interest and eagerness. I have experienced this myself and believe that everyone benefits when they are learning with a will and drive behind it. 

From this program I hope to walk away with a more solid knowledge about how to handle conflict and work towards peaceful solutions. Even though I am new to the field of peacebuilding, I plan to bring my different perspective to the table and learn from others. 

Sites DOT MIISThe Middlebury Institute site network.