By Stephanie McMillen
“We teach who we are” is a guiding principle for how Rachel Allen, professor of humanities and coordinator of the Peace and Justice Initiative (PJI), views her position at Valencia.
“Bringing the head and the heart into education is vital for me,” Rachel explained. “Giving space for the individual to tap into passions and purpose is essential to the educational experience.”
Growing up in Winter Park, Rachel spent her time as an actress and apprentice dancer at the Southern Ballet Theatre (now Orlando Ballet) and performed in musical theatre productions in school and local theatres.
She went on to study theatre at Northwestern University, and during her summer breaks she would visit Eagle’s Nest Foundation in North Carolina. It was there that Rachel developed a concern for the environment, a passion for social justice, value for the community, and most importantly, a love for holistic education.
After earning a master’s degree in theatre at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Rachel arrived at Valencia in 1997 as an adjunct instructor in theatre and humanities, and became a full-time humanities professor in 2001. Seemingly, Valencia was just the right place for Rachel. Here she found “a family of people committed to creating a better world.”
Rachel’s tenure-track work in the Teaching and Learning Academy resulted in a class called What’s Love Got To Do With It?, which was piloted in 2003. The course, along with Penny Villegas’ Introduction to Peace Studies class, became a seed for the peace studies curriculum.
Rachel’s work in peace and justice led her to the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at Notre Dame, allowing her to work with some of the leading scholar-practitioners in the country. The integration of these interests culminated to form a commitment to nonviolence and reflective practice. For Rachel, nonviolence refers to anything that violates the soul of another.
“To be the peace, as Gandhi teaches, we must first examine self,” she said. “Our Principles for How We Treat Each Other are a starting place for a nonviolent practice. It is exciting to see more professors, staff and administrators embrace these principles at the college.”
Through PJI, Rachel has been able to support college-wide, co-curricular activities, including the week-long Conversation on Compassion; expand the Introduction to Peace Studies class to three campuses – East, West and Osceola; introduce us to renowned scholars and authors; and bring Valencia national recognition by the U.S. Institute of Peace as one of 21 programs in peace studies.
“The most inspirational aspect about Valencia is the people,” Rachel said. “I never cease to be amazed at the creativity, warmth, passion and high standard of excellence that my colleagues at the college share.”
Rachel has been the recipient of the University Club of Orlando Endowed Chair and the Patricia Havill Whalen Endowed Chair. She is married to Willie J. Allen Jr. and they have two children, ages two and three.
If asked about her goal in life, it is to be a kind and loving woman and to make a difference by being part of the positive shift happening in the world.
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