Last week I spent 11 days learning and living with 88 individuals from 26 countries at the Summer Peacebuiding Institute (SPI), a yearly program that the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding organizes at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU).
The program spans seven weeks and includes four different sessions in May and June. While I only attended one session titled, Conflict Analysis: Understanding Conflict, many of my peers traveled thousands of miles will stay on for subsequent sessions and come back in future years for a graduate certificate. I will probably return myself!
I was very impressed by the strong and rich community that SPI was able to build in a short amount of time and the foundations of diversity and inclusion that are espoused. One friend commented directly to a fellow classmate, “I was taught to hate people from your country and you seem like a person who I would like to be my friend.” My eyes grew big and my heart quivered when I heard this. It was truly amazing that these types of interactions and engagement were happening all the time. Individuals were stepping across the divide to converse and connect with other human beings they were perhaps raised to hate.
While valuable learning and interactions happened in the six hours a day I spent in the classroom, coffee break conversations, outside social events, walks to the grocery store with new friends and time spent in nearby nature with peers were an equally important part of my experience. At night, I found myself engaged in illuminating conversations in my apartment with my roommates from Nigeria where we both learned and experienced each other’s cultural differences while sharing a small dorm room.
One of the more interesting and memorable assignments we were asked to complete was a reflection on our values and ethics regarding conflict analysis using an experiential medium. What we each produced in the exercise was as unique as our country of origin (Liberia, Belgium/Peru, Finland, Lebanon, Australia, Mexico, Norway, Bangladesh, Syria, Jordan, Fiji, Iraq, Philippines/Ireland and the US). I chose a metaphor of a mountain to represent my values and ethics related to conflict analysis. I depicted a mountain viewed in three ways: a one-dimensional silhouette, concentric circles like a topographic map, and in three dimensions. Conflict is like a mountain; it can be viewed in several ways. We all bring our unique cultures, perceptions, lens, and understanding when we look at conflict. It is important to be mindful and respect the different perspectives and tensions that each of us hold.
I saw a lot of learning, creativity, excitement, and commitment to understand others in this assignment. I also felt hope and endless possibilities to work together. Thank you SPI for providing this venue.
Nettie Pardue, Director of Programs