Throughout my study of Peace and Justice, I have taken Introduction to Peace and Justice Studies, Social Inequalities, Social Change and Political Action (abroad), Feminist Theology, Bioethics (currently), and Capstone to Peace and Justice Studies. In addition to my coursework, I have worked with the Interfaith Youth Core, worked as a Community Organizer at the NMC, written for The Progressive and America magazines, and been employed in different social-justice-based jobs including a homeless shelter, a girls’ summer camp, and a low income housing neighborhood. However, perhaps none of these experiences and courses have been as formative in my work towards activism as the simple conversations and interactions I’ve had since coming to SNC.
My journey of social justice education began when I was a first year student in high school. We had an unorthodox citizenship class, taught by a raggedy-haired, old liberal who sat us in a circle while we debated different topics. When the teacher was gone, much to the other students’ annoyance, I decided to stand and led the class in a discussion of abortion. When Mr. Kiszely returned, he sat me down and asked me to resurrect an old student club: Students for Social Justice. I thought about it, but initially did nothing about it. I actually let it be for two years. However, the summer after my sophomore year of high school I joined my aunt in a trip to Haiti. She went as a medical missionary, I went to “serve” but really just as an appendage. I took notes on medical procedures, rearranged the dispensary, and gave massages. I was appalled, but I didn’t know how to reflect on what I was experiencing. But somehow, the ordeal lit the fire that hasn’t gone out yet. I went back to high school as a junior, ready to start a new club built around social change and youth action. We were going to lead protests, give educational talks, write letters, call our congresspeople, and organize fundraisers. We ended up with about six random people, held one fundraiser and three community educational events in the two years I led it. And though I left and the club dissolved, the bulletin board still hangs in the entryway of the school with our old announcements.
At this time, I saw my main goal in life as becoming “a voice for the voiceless.” I was going to study education or law or sociology and find a way to work for the UN. I was going to write and fix all of the worlds problems. I must have been a pain in the rear to listen to at that age. It was around then that I looked at a small liberal arts college in De Pere, and the existence of a Peace and Justice minor and center drew me to apply and enroll.
It took a little while to realize how elitist my whole “be a voice for the voiceless” plan was. I’m glad I didn’t take PEAC 200 until my sophomore year because my vision for peace might have still centered around me as an individual gently corralling the world into my own vision of beneficence. One of the biggest eye openers I had came during an English course in my second semester: Race and Sex in Contemporary Literature. We read a short article called “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” that chronicled a woman realizing how much privilege she has as a white woman. It made me come to terms with my own inherent racism, and since then I’ve been on an educational rampage trying to learn about the person of color experience, specifically in public education. And through my education, I’ve learned more about the systemic issues of peace and conflict studies than I ever thought existed.
In essence, I still agree with my personal vision for peace that I wrote in my sophomore year of college. Peace across all issues cannot exist without restorative justice, caring for basic human needs, and continued conversation. Everything I have read and studied continues to reinforce the idea that restorative justice is the best way to counteract violence and crime.
This is how I have changed my mind. Before, I forgot about the very necessary step: listening to the victims and survivors of their own conflict or suffering. Instead of speaking over them or assuming that I know what is best for them, it is now my goal to listen and facilitate conversations between offenders and their victims. I hope that in my education I have become more humble and understanding of human need. I want to elevate others’ experiences so that they reach the rest of the world and let myself slip into the background. I do not need to be known as the one who changed the world and fixed everything. Instead, I can become the microphone for others. I am not their voice – but perhaps I can get everyone else to sit down long enough to listen to the oppressed of the world.