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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Justice Brandeis of the Peace

Published: September 25, 2009
Section: Arts, Etc.

Meditations: Members of Sangha, a non-denominational Buddhist club, discuss the Peace of Mind event, an activity for Monday’s International Day of Peace. <br /><i>PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot</i>

Meditations: Members of Sangha, a non-denominational Buddhist club, discuss the Peace of Mind event, an activity for Monday’s International Day of Peace.
PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot

Peace is a very Brandeisian ideal. Founded in the aftermath of and partially in response to the atrocities of World War II, the university had peacemaking on its mind from the outset. Over sixty years later, the university carries that torch proudly, through such organizations as the Student Peace Alliance (which two years ago hosted a national conference), STAND (anti-genocide coalition), and the Peace, Conflict, and Coexistence Studies (PAX) program. On Monday, Brandeis celebrated the International Day of Peace, proving once again that we don’t find anything particularly funny about peace, love, and understanding.

The United Nations established September 21 as the International Day of Peace in 1981 as a way of drawing attention to the need for concerted action in pursuit of the elusive ideal. Brandeis latched onto this commemoration and has celebrated it for several years.

Monday’s main events included Peace of Mind, a gathering in the Shapiro Campus Center Atrium to help develop inner peace, and Nonviolence Training, the first in a series of sessions intended to teach Kingian non-violence strategies (as in Martin Luther King, Jr.). Both events focused on practical, hands-on methods for promoting harmony and compassion in a time where such initiatives are sorely needed.

Peace of Mind, put on by Sangha, a non-denominational Buddhist community and the PAX program, gave students a forum to express their beliefs about how to transform the world by transforming ourselves. Students took turns sharing inspiring quotes, personal reflections, and stories. Reverend Walter Cuenin, Coordinator of the Interfaith Chaplaincy, addressed the group with sanguine words on the power individuals have in promoting peace, and Alex Kern, Protestant chaplain, led the assembled in a song.

Professor Gordie Fellman, head of the PAX Department, shared some words about the international and historical implications for this day, offering Gen. MacChrystal’s plea for more troops in Afghanistan as an example of the challenges to peace in our time. Yet the event maintained a decidedly apolitical tone, emphasizing instead the spiritual and interpersonal aspects of peacebuilding.

“I hope that people don’t think of International Day of Peace as some idealistic time for all the hippies to come on stage and preach peace,” explained Miriam von Guggenberg ’10, “but I hope it is a day that triggered a compassionate and/or thought of gratitude in each person who walked through the bustling Shapiro Campus Atrium.”

“It is my hope,” said Jessica Stearns ’10, one of the organizers of Peace of Mind, “that people took away from these events a different definition of peace. Peace as a practice. As something you do, not something you believe in.”

The Nonviolence Training, organized by the Student Peace Alliance, took a different approach in pursuit of the same ends. Members of SPA attended a nonviolence certification program last year and decided to use their skills to educate the Brandeis community about principles and concrete methods of nonviolence. This session included breakout groups and hypothetical scenarios to help students understand ways of tackling real-life campus issues.

“The objective of this exercise was to provide participants perspective on how a community can become empowered to face conflict in a constructive and nonviolent manner,” explained Ned Crowley ’10.

The turnout for both events was modest, but the general acceptance of and interest in peace sparked by the day’s events demonstrated that Brandeis is still full of a bunch of peaceniks. And that’s not such a bad thing.