Inspired by peace

November 20, 2013 | Young Voices
Emily Mininger | Special to Young Voices

It's not very often that I get a chance to come into contact with experts in the field of peace and justice, so when I heard about the Peace and Justice Studies Association Conference in Waterloo, Ont., as a peace and conflict studies student at Conrad Grebel University College, I knew this was an opportunity I couldn't miss.

I was right. The conference made for an incredible and inspirational weekend. Nothing gets you fired up to make some change like hearing Nobel Peace Prize-winner and anti-landmine activist Jody Williams talking about taking action against violence in the world, or Idle No More cofounder Sylvia McAdam speaking about the injustices still faced by indigenous peoples in Canada.

We were even given the incredible opportunity at the student conference to dance and sing with former war child Emmanuel Jal, now a hip-hop artist, who shared his story and flooded our emotions with his moving music written out of his personal experience. Many students I talked to said that it was an experience they weren't likely to forget.

Throughout the conference, a message that stuck with me personally was how environmental issues are inherently issues of peace, and advocating for environmental justice is a way of working for peace. In Canada, for example, fighting against the pipelines is closely tied with fighting for indigenous rights because the pipelines need to go through first nation lands. This was just one way that the speakers at the conference fostered new connections and new ways of thinking, as well as addressed innovative ways of solving age-old problems. It was an invigorating and stimulating conversation to be a part of.

Another unique aspect of the conference was the integration of music. So often we engage with the intellectual side of issues and don't take time to feel or engage emotionally. With the performance of a music group before each keynote address, a performance of War Requiem for the main conference, and Jal at the student conference, music was made an integral part of this conference and added another level of depth and connection.

Overall, this conference was an encouraging experience for me. Sometimes in peace studies, it can feel like not a lot of people are motivated to make change. You hold an event related to an issue near and dear to your heart, and not many people show up, and you wonder why people don't seem to care. Or you try to engage people in conversation about the injustice you see around you, and people switch the topic and don't engage. It can be discouraging to feel like no one else shares your passion or cares to actually make positive change in the world.

But that was not the case at this conference. Seeing so many people—students, activists, scholars, musicians, artists, practitioners and teachers—coming together to discuss the latest work in the field of peace and justice was inspiring. Never before had I been in such close contact with people who have had such a large impact on the world, leading movements and actively facilitating global change.

As a student of peace and conflict studies (PACS), I often get asked what one does with a PACS degree. I'm not going to lie. Sometimes I can get pessimistic about the opportunities available to me after I graduate. However, through talking with other passionate students, and being more connected with what is actually happening to advance peace and justice around the world, I'm hopeful that I will find a way to use my education to make a difference, to be a peacemaker, activist or entrepreneur working towards justice for all.

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