By Dani Moritz-Long
Between unrelenting social media battles and increasingly uncomfortable dinner conversations with that uncle who always takes it too far, surviving today’s political climate without inciting a verbal (or physical) brawl can seem like an impossibility. Consequently, too many of us avoid engaging in difficult conversations altogether — leaning on avoidance and apathy as an alternative to unwelcome confrontations.
That’s where Valencia’s Peace and Justice Institute (PJI) comes in.
Rooted in the Institute’s 13 Principles for How We Treat Each Other, PJI fosters peace and justice by empowering our community to engage in inclusive, caring and respectful dialogue that leads to growth and transformation, rather than violence or aggression.
To promote this, the Institute hosts workshops and seminars, such as Global Peace Week and Orlando Speaks, throughout the year within and outside of the Valencia community. Generally, these workshops are hosted by trained PJI facilitators, but recently, PJI inspired Valencia’s students to take action and lead a workshop of their own.
Emboldened by PJI, its principles and its impact, Yerika Germosen, Nathan Daniels and Ashley Reyes hosted a PJI workshop for their peers, as well as faculty and staff, on East Campus on Wednesday, June 14, 2017.
During the workshop, they discussed the PJI principles and explored the application of them through interactive simulations and discussions. From discussing Black Lives Matter, climate change and immigration to simulating confrontations about a smoke-free campus and gender-neutral pronouns, the workshop invited participants to civilly engage in controversial conversations.
“I have noticed how a particular environment is created when the principles are introduced and how difficult conversations are made significantly more bearable when the principles are exercised,” Yerika explained. “I wanted to help in the efforts of showing others that the principles are not only good in theory, but also in practice. All the topics that were discussed throughout the workshop were controversial, to say the least. Nonetheless, all the conversations were characterized by civility and understanding. I think this is something that would have been difficult to attain if the principles were not applied.”
As Yerika attested to, many of the conversations proved stimulating, as students, faculty and staff shared their personal experiences and convictions on topics that, for some, were very close to them.
In one circle, students discussed the reality of undocumented immigration and their experiences with undocumented immigrants. In another, a discussion about Black Lives Matter evoked difficult testimonials about implicit bias and the complexities and contradictions surrounding the movement.
Commenting on the success of the event — which one student said helped “restore my faith in humanity” — Yerika said she’s proud of the outcome.
Likewise, PJI Director Rachel Allen commends the students’ work.
“Watching the Peace Ambassadors lead this workshop using the Principles for How We Treat Each Other to engage in such important social issues was a point of pride for me,” she said. “Knowing PJI is developing leaders to facilitate civil dialogue in such a contentious time is heartening. Kudos to Yerika, Nathan and Ashley for such good work.”
To learn more about PJI and how you can get involved, visit valenciacollege.edu/PJI.