A Reflection on the Police Department

By Magdalena Castillo

The Salinas police officers were generous enough to give their time towards answering a crowd’s questions about their experience as police officers, quite possibly the most controversial career in today’s divided and violent world. A daunting task, as I’m sure they knew coming into it, as police officers and peace can be seen as somewhat contradictory, at least in my mind. 

One of the first things brought up was the recent shooting at the Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California. It was a fresh wound, and it stung to hear it talked about so soon after the tragedy. My mind traveled to a warm summer day and I felt pain–simulated pain, as I know I could never know what it feels like to lose someone in such a horrifying way–for the victims, for their families, and for bystanders who witnessed it. What I didn’t even think about was how hard it was for the officers themselves, not only at this festival, but in countless other acts of violence that they have to be involved in. Several of the officers–if not all of them–said that one of the hardest parts of their job is seeing what the victims and their families go through. They mentioned that they’ve seen a lot of trauma in their lifetime and that sometimes they feel pain when families are torn apart or when people die that is often too much to bear. 

I felt an immediate sense of shame on my part. I, justifiably, was so disappointed in what I believe to be an unjust and sometimes institutionally racist system that I detached myself from the fact that police officers are humans too. Their compassion for suffering for people in their community shined through their tough demeanor. Their humor lightened the mood in an otherwise tense environment. Their pain was confirmed when they wished that mental health and self care was focused on more for police officers. 

It’s important for me to say that a lot of my concerns about the police were confirmed. I still have questions about the things they said and I still feel slightly uncomfortable with some of the tactics used, etc. It’s equally important for me to say that I also agree with a lot of the things the police said, and I realize that while I still think there is A LOT of work to be done, they are humans, and humans are imperfect. If the general population wants to see change with our officers, we can only do so if we understand their side of the story. We can only do so if we care about addressing institutional racism before we attack the individuals who use it as a weapon without necessarily knowing. We need to help make mental health awareness a priority in their department so that they are able to be healthy and do their job even better. 


By Magdalena Castillo

Being the only fluent one out of my siblings is all fun and games until they depend on you 24/7. I remember being a young teenager, no older than 14, when I had just locked the door to the bathroom at our rental late at night. Right as I was about to brush my teeth and get ready for bed after an exhausting day, my sister bangs on the door, begging me to help her communicate with my little cousin who was still over. I was annoyed, but nevertheless unlocked the door to help her our. He was asking her if she would jump back in the pool with him in Spanish. I told her what he had asked and she told me to tell him that she didn’t want to. That’s all she told me to say, not for any reason, just that she didn’t want to. I was too tired to realize that it’d be better to come up with a better explanation, considering we had just arrived in the Dominican Republic and my family was excited to see us–just not wanting to could be taken as rude. My little cousin politely said okay, but I could hear it in his voice that he didn’t understand and was slightly hurt. 

This was one of the times I played the role of interpreter in my life, interpreting both english to spanish and spanish to english. I never really thought about that moment until Wednesday night when (insert their names here) came in and did a lesson on interpretation. It made me think deeply about the role we play as not only interpreters, but as storytellers, and it made me value the idea of emotional intelligence a lot more. That night, I should’ve noticed the tone and excitement in my cousin’s voice and made up an excuse that made it sound like it wasn’t personal that my sister didn’t want to go back in the pool. Or would an excuse be countered with a solution and lead to my sister going back in the pool when she didn’t want to? I learned that interpreters are not only interpreting, but exchanging ideas and telling stories, and sometimes have to be peacekeepers themselves.

A Woman’s Place in Peacebuilding

By Magdalena Castillo

I was elected to be the president of the first all-female officer team in my high school’s history during my senior year. It was not only a huge honor, but an amazing opportunity that I did not take lightly. Even at the high school level, there were so many things I wanted to accomplish and so many groups I wanted to reach. I didn’t think it would be a difficult task in terms of getting done what our officer team, by popular demand, wanted to get done. We had all been in Student Government holding several roles (mine being representative one year and treasurer the next, along with other micro roles) and the people trusted us…didn’t they? 


Some people did. Some people were thrilled to see we were listening to the high school’s concerns and addressing them promptly. Many people were impressed with our ideas and dedication. But others were skeptical. I thought the others that would be skeptical would be the general student population only, but the people with the loudest opposition of our “administration”, if you will, were the male members of our very own student government class. 

They made it impossible for us to get things done. They would argue at ideas that we brought up but weren’t ours, ideas that they very well knew the student population had suggested. They would call me things like “sassy” and “aggressive” when I would politely ask them to focus during class instead of goofing off. The same boys I loved and had worked with smoothly in the past, male-dominated officer teams were pulling me and us down. 

When we chose to follow through with things despite their reprimand, we risked having fractured relationships afterwards but when we decided to do things the way they were always done, we risked not doing our duty as the very students who put on every program, who raised all the money, and whose job it is to represent the school. I was frustrated because I thought that just having a female officer team was enough. But as Sheherazade said, women are not additive, they are integral, and that year, we were just an additive. 

We had not changed the macho culture of Student Government that was present at our school. It didn’t matter how many women were added to the officer team, we were still unable to move exactly how we wanted to move because of it. While that year I learned valuable lessons and we did make great impacts that year, I still struggle to this day with authority roles like that considering it can be applied to this field that I am interested in. As we saw through Sheherazade’s activity, as a woman in this field, I won’t be able to work the same way men work, but I learned there can be some benefits to that too.

A Moral Dilemma

By Magdalena Castillo

A few days ago, I was lucky enough to see Hamilton for the second time. It was equally as incredible as the first time, and since I already knew the lyrics to the songs and the story, I was able to approach this experience in a slightly different way. Instead of just hearing the lyrics, I understood them and thought about what they meant in the grand scheme of things. There was one part of the play in particular that I never really thought much about, but can’t stop thinking about it now: cheating. 

Alexander Hamilton in the play (and the movie) is an inspirational leader of the people, a military commander, an economist, and so much more. On Broadway he is portrayed as a complicated American hero who made massive strides in American history. Impressive man he may be, but he wasn’t a good husband–unfaithful since the very beginning. Watching this again, I battled with the idea that while he was a good leader, he was a terrible husband. Alexander wasn’t the only one who was like this. 

Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi: three of the most famous men in history, known for making positive change and building peace in their communities. Ghandi was accused of exploiting young women but was a civil right’s leader. Nelson Mandela led his country from apartheid to a diverse democracy, had an affair before he married his famous Winnie. Martin Luther King Jr. was also a civil right’s leader but has allegedly had multiple affairs during his marriage as well. They were disloyal or in some ways (in the traditional sense) uncommitted family members, but their commitment to their country and their community is unparallelled. 

So what does this mean for a peacebuilder? Does it mean anything at all? For all I know, I could be applying just four men’s stories to all peacebuilders’ lives and grossly misrepresenting them. But I feel like there has to be some truth to it. To be a peacebuilder, to me, means that you have to make choices and prioritize things. You can’t be selfish and don’t have time or energy to focus on the “small” things like family. These men had a country to take care of, a country that needed all their time and energy and so how could they prioritize being good partners…how could that be justified when that takes time, time that could be spent on making sustainable change on a larger scale?  

Peacebuilding, as one of my classmates this summer put it, is not a romantic career. You aren’t perfect and pure, you make mistakes, and you must sometimes abandon things that you love if it means getting the job done. At the end of the play, I can’t say that I made up my mind whether I should hate Hamilton for being unfaithful or if I should still love him for helping this country grow. All I felt comfortable saying leaving that auditorium was that peacebuilding or conflict resolution or just making decisions on behalf of the larger population is hard, but if you do it with all the passion in your body, you’re legacy will live on through the well-being and stories of the people. 

Prisoner, Inmate, Criminal, HUMAN

By Magdalena Castillo

This week I struggled. A lot. 

I remember walking through the prison, and feeling so heavy, like I was carrying all the pain that the inmates were feeling on my back. I looked down at their pants, pants that read PRISONER in large capital letters. It was their identity now. They were no longer humans, but prisoners forgotten about in a system I didn’t quite understand yet. Half my brain was yelling at me, wondering how I could possibly feel pain for murderers. The other part of me could not help but see every prisoner as a child, a child that was once innocent and pure, but then some person or system failed them and now they have done horrible, unspeakable things that they’ll spend the rest of their life paying the consequences for. “Hurt people hurt people.” Lou Hamond said this, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. There had to be something we can do to prevent this all from happening. 

Then later this week, we listened to the testimonies of not only victims, but offenders and community members who  have been through the criminal justice system in one way or another. I was shocked to see victims of violent crime be so supportive of things like Restorative Justice. These people saw that locking people up forever without any assistance in terms of assimilating back into the real world isn’t a solution. “It’s just another person dead,” as Cheryl put it. 

We visited Delancey St., a 4.5 star-rated restaurant ran by ex-criminals on parole that learn real-life skills, in this case, how to wash dishes, cook, wait, and run a restaurant. It is a way to give ex-offenders an opportunity to give back to not only the community, but to themselves as well and create a life that is beneficial to all parties involved. When people start at Delancey St., typically they don’t return to being involved in crime. 

Then we went to Ranchos Cielos, an amazing non-profit that allows students who are involved in or susceptible to gang violence in the community of Salinas and offers not only academic classes, but also a variety of vocational skills and training so that they can focus their time and efforts into a job in the future (or university if they choose) instead of in gangs. I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the place, with the success of it, and I was overjoyed to hear that the recidivism rate into gangs was less than half there. 

Between that, and all the other presentations and visits, I saw that there are things we can do to prevent all this from happening, and those things are being done today more than ever. It was okay for me to feel emotional  on behalf of the offenders and the victims, as we’re all humans and there are almost always reasons we do things. While not excusing behavior, we can look into the root causes of how and why these people committed such crimes and support organizations like these two in attacking those root issues and doing preemptive work that needs to be done in this world. 

Conflict and Desperation: The Fire That Brings New Life

By Magdalena Castillo

“You need to be committed to values, not money.”

CASP is an incredible organization that has somehow encouraged programs to work together instead of promising money as an incentive to do so. Throughout the conversation, I continued to hear the speakers emphasize that in order to have a project be successful, values need to be kept at the center of the conversation. When money is at the center, things only last as much as the money does–it’s bound to be short-term. 

A beautiful sentiment, but I was skeptical nevertheless. I mean, in what world could you possibly get people already so divided to care about core values? It sure wasn’t my world. I thought back to the 2016 general elections when our country seemed so focused on party over values (an old pattern) and even though we all want the same thing (in the grand scheme of things), we refuse to work together to reach a common goal, and money does have a lot to do with that. 

So, I asked this question to the mayor. He said everything has to get worse before it gets better. I interpreted that as “change is a result of desperation.” This was not the only time I heard this. 

In the presentation with Jeff Langholz, a brilliant way to distribute and save water was introduced to us, and the question of how we would get the general population to move towards this instead of the traditional processes came up. His answer was that once the water issue gets really bad, people will start to care, because they have to care. I once again simplified this as “change is a result of desperation.”

We can even apply this to the Holocaust. Things got so bad to the point that one of the most well-known mass genocides in history occurred, but eventually Germany turned itself around and is currently one of the world’s strongest economic powers and is extremely influential in international relations. But it had to get really, really bad, before it got to this point. 

Through all the chaos, tragedy, and failures, there seems to be a pattern of hope in all these circumstances. Even though it can seem impossible to put values at the face of problems so large and interconnected in today’s world, it’s not. And although it can be scary and hopeless to think that we are in crisis mode right now, especially in terms of the environment (as Dr. Richard Mathew said), I choose to look at it as an opportunity for us to work together and unite as a global community to make the world a better place for all of us–which is all everyone really wants. 

This week I learned that conflict, although having underlying negative connotations to it, can be a positive thing and can mean opportunity. Desperation, although having similar negative connotations linked to it, can also mean opportunity. When I stop for just a second to look at these not as the fire that destroys and kills, but as the fire that helps grow new life, I feel more optimistic about peacebuilding. We are closer than we think to solving the world’s problems, and I’m left hungry to know what I can do to be part of this. 

My Thoughts on Restorative Justice

By Magdalena Castillo

Coming from a university who is a well-known pioneer in the field of Restorative Justice, I suppose I was biased when I joined the conversation about it. It has worked so well for handling petty crimes at my school, and I believe with my whole heart that if restorative justice prevents young students (students who overwhelmingly happen to be black and brown boys and men) from being heavily punished for the same things their White peers do, then it was the exact system we needed in schools.
While I still believe that, I’ve always struggled with the idea of restorative justice on a macro level. In cases of sexual assault and murder, it’s difficult to be accepting of a process that also hears the side of the offender, and in many cases, tries to empathize with them. I struggle to see myself taking the role of mediator in these instances. 

However, even in these circumstances, the concept–NOT the practice–of Restorative Justice is what sits well with me as a person who is working to build peace in communities. Even if someone commits an act of sexual assault or crime, while I don’t necessarily think that they should be given the gracious opportunity to defend themselves in a restorative justice program, I think it’s crucial to understand the systems and people that were factors in leading these perpetrators to commit acts of violence and get themselves into conflict; not to feel sympathy or to reduce their punishment in all cases, but rather to identify those structures as ones we need to fix and work on as peacebuilders. For example, men (or women in some cases) who rape should be punished accordingly. It is a revolting and hanus crime, one that makes it difficult for me even to type out without feeling sick to my stomach. But to understand that centuries of patriarchy that socializes men a certain way or structures in place to oppress women or lack of awareness about sexual assault are potentially some of the toxic, yet existing, reasons why people commit these crimes is almost an invitation to peacebuilders to address problems in order to help reduce the number of rapes and assaults and murders that occur in the long-term. Giving capital punishment, for example,  to one person is often just and necessary, but what about all the other assaulters and rapists out there? How will we stop them? Or will we just keep putting everyone in jail and have a repetitive, exaughsting an unfair cycle of sexual assault? Restorative Justice in and of itself may not be the answer for larger, more serious crimes like these. But the underlying concept that you should hear why an act of violence was committed from the offender seems to me like a way to identify invisible systems in order to try not to “save” the offender, but improve the future and change the culture.

However, again, I think Restorative Justice as a practice needs to evolve so that it isn’t something that ignores victims or minimizes their experiences. Currently, I believe that it works in some cases but cannot work in others, therefore it is a deeply flawed system. I do believe, though, that if as a society we take the time to rework it, it is promising. 

Solving the Water Issue…Is it That Easy?

By Magdalena Castillo

This past Sunday, I picked up a laminated menu for a grill on Alvarado St. I scanned the entirety of it, until my eyes reached the bottom where in small print it read something along the lines of “Water is a scarce resource here, it will only be brought out if requested!” My privilege allowed this to be the first time that I ever had to deal with a “water shortage” problem, and I took a moment to think about how this applies to my daily life and its significance in relation to the Summer Peacebuilding Program. 

I live in a state where water is unlimited, fresh, clean, and abundant. Here in California, I have the privilege to at least ask for a drink of water. In other parts of the world, accessing and affording a clean source of water isn’t as easy, and for some, impossible. Just because I have the ability to drink good water, doesn’t mean I should turn a blind eye and ignore the fact that others still struggle. 

In terms of peacebuilding, it may be hard for some to see water’s place in conflict, considering it isn’t a conflict in and of itself, but a factor that causes conflict. Wars are fought over lack of available water, riots start in the street because of increased prices, and communities are left in upheaval.

What I learned in Professor Langholz’ presentation was that what I thought was a water shortage was actually not a water shortage at all. Water is just a distribution issue; water doesn’t run out, we have the same amount of water we’ve always had and always will have. This makes solving this conflict so much harder than I had anticipated. 

Professor Langholz inspired me and left me speechless after an impressive presentation on new ways to solve the water distribution problem. For example, there are apparently ways to collect the water produced from fog overnight. There’s a small machine that collects air and stores it two meters into the cold ground and transforms it to water. There’s even his very own innovation (and that of his students), a large tank stored on private property that collects water for only two cents a liter. Throughout the presentation is was easy to fall into the trap of only imagining what the future could be instead of considering what the past had been in order to assess whether those options are good ideas or not and what the consequences would include. Some of the concerns I had was, yes, the air is free. But so is the sun, and years after solar panels were invented and on popular demand it’s a luxury only the wealthy and middle class can afford. How do we make sure that we don’t repeat the same pattern with water and make sure the communities already struggling with accessing water are taken into consideration a few years from now? How do we ensure that governments will not take control of the water and these methods to collect it? However, when it comes to the water waste issue, it seems more promising (things like the Blackwater recycling system). Even if it’s just the elite that use it, considering the upper class and large corporations use an excessive amount of water, lots of water could be saved and any is better than none. 

This presentation left me feeling reflective more than anything; reflective about the future of water conservation, distribution, and environmental sustainability, but also about the difficulty of the field of peacebuilding. It also made the concept of “interconnectedness” to life, as I realized that when something is fixed for one group, another group may not receive the same benefits. Everything we do affects something and it is important for me to recognize that.

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. 

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.

Sites DOT MIISThe Middlebury Institute site network.