PJS Student Spotlight – Bree Casper

Guest blog post by PJS student Bree Casper

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“Now is always the time when more good can be done” –John Duley

My name is Bree Casper and I am a senior studying anthropology, with minors in cognitive science and peace and justice studies. This summer I served as an AmeriCorps member at Edgewood Village, a local non-profit housing corporation. Edgewood Village’s mission is to provide affordable housing for low-income residents in East Lansing. Edgewood Village is a unique place because it has a community center, which acts as the heart of the community and provides programming for people of all ages. They offer kid’s programming ranging from after school activities to summer education, to keep kids engaged throughout the year. Adults can also find something to support their interests there, by participating in programming ranging from different types of support groups to monthly potlucks.

Another unique aspect of Edgewood Village is its community garden, which is where I come in. This summer I was the adult garden educator in the Edgewood Village Community Garden. I managed the allotment garden where residents had their own plots. In addition I cultivated community plots where the fruits and vegetables that I grew were donated back to the community. I also led fitness and nutrition programming including classes like chair yoga and nutrition based documentary series.

It was in my time with Edgewood that I learned how truly unsettling food insecurity is in the United States. Many of my residents had trouble securing wholesome, nutritious meals once a day – let alone for three meals a day. I witnessed first hand how the aid given to those in the most desperate of situations may not even be to the receiver’s best interest. Most of the food given through food subsides are nutrient-poor, heavily processed foods. A lot of the community members that received these subsides couldn’t even eat the food due to health problems or dietary needs. More importantly, many already facing significant health issues were left to eat this food, which only exacerbates the health issues they are already battling. As if these issues weren’t enough, many residents lacked proper education about health and nutrition.

This showed me why the garden is such an important landmark in the community. Throughout the summer, I witnessed people coming together in the garden and growing food that they would not otherwise have had access to. I saw people who had no prior gardening experience harvest more than they could eat. I saw friendships formed over soil and plants and how much simple gardening routines could benefit a community. Beyond this, nutrition lessons proved to be incredibly helpful. Residents learned how to prepare healthier meals, and make healthy food substitutes in their diets. I also had a number of residents come together to form a chair yoga class – a program that has helped them relieve stress and continues even after I have left the program.

While I saw the residents’ attitudes and accessibility to food markedly change in my short 4.5 months, they also shaped how I view injustices in the world. There are a lot of factors that have led to the state of food injustice that we are in. Serious policy work needs to happen on the governmental end to aid those in need of more secure food access. This is not an issue that can be solved overnight.

In one of the gardens, aptly named the Peace Thyme Garden, there is a quote from a poem written by one of Edgewood’s founders, John Duley, “Now is always the time when more good can be done.” This quote serves as a constant reminder of the community’s purpose. Moreover, it completely embodies what I learned at Edgewood Village Community Garden this summer. My experiences showed me that there are people that need help in our communities right now. We can sit around and wait for others to devise a solution or we can take action. When you bring a group of motivated people together, they can inspire much more useful change, more immediately, for those in need. I saw my residents come together, work together, sweat together, and learn together. They showed how truly dedicated they were to health and wellness, and when given the proper tools and knowledge excelled beyond belief. Action can start wherever you are, with resources close to you, and can make major changes in the lives of those in our own communities. I saw my residents take justice into their own hands and become more food secure over four months. While there is still a lot of injustice in the realm of food security, I have seen how the actions of a few people can change a community one step at a time.

The peace and justice minor in combination with my experience at Edgewood Village showed me how themes of peace and justice manifest in real life. It allowed me to apply what I had learned in class to real life situations. It also allowed me to add onto what I had learned through first hand experience. Going forward, I will take this experience and the themes of peace and justice into the realm of addiction. At the graduate level I hope to conduct in-depth anthropological research on Americas “war on drugs” and how it affects addicts. More importantly, I hope to bring peace and justice into the conversation and change the way addicts are treated and change the discourse of “the war on drugs” in America.

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Working in the garden 

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Doing service for the annual Russ Mawby Signature Service Project 

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A picture of MSU Volunteers working in the garden for a service day 

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Posing for a photo with fellow AmeriCorps member in the Children’s Garden 

The Power of the Individual | Jennifer Beckner | TEDxMSU

PJS Student Spotlight: Christina Igl

¡Buenos días a todos! My name is Christina Igl and I am a senior majoring in Arts & Humanities and Spanish with a minor in Peace and Justice Studies. I am currently studying abroad in Valencia, Spain for the duration of spring semester. While I am taking classes and earning college credit, the learning that I have found most valuable has been outside the classroom. Through this program I am immersed in the Spanish culture by living with a Spanish family, participating in community festivals, events, and organizations, while also interacting with Spanish students my age.

Spain is a culturally diverse country with an equally diverse history. This diversity is easily visible in all facets of life in Spain. Everything from the architecture to the daily customs are shaped by influences of the Visigoths, Celts, Greeks, Romans, Jews, and Muslims. Cathedrals are built on top of mosques that were built on top of cathedrals and so on. Spain is currently divided into autonomous communities with their own political power and language (even though Castellano Spanish is still widely spoken). These autonomous communities are further divided into 50 providences, each with their own history and traditions.

So why am I sharing this?

I am living what I learned in my studies at Michigan State. Spain’s past is still incredibly visible in the present. Of course, Spain is not the only country whose past affects its present… it’s much easier for me to observe, study, and discuss this concept in Spain than in my home country. I have the opportunity to see Spain as an outsider, maybe causing me to be more objective in the connections I make. As time passes, I find myself becoming more of an insider in the Spanish culture, which in turn, helps me to look at culture in the United States with a more critical eye. I have something to compare it against.

The daily mercado

Language study is another area where my coursework, experiences in Spain, and policy in the United States intersect. A variety of languages are spoken in the United States and this variety is a hot topic in politics. There are arguments for and against making English the official language and placing restrictions on what foreign languages are allowed to be spoken within the U.S. borders. Spain is a wonderful case study for this situation. There are multiple co-official and recognized languages spoken in Spain such as Castellano, Gallego, Catalán, Aranés, and more. Spain is able to maintain plurality of language, politics, and culture and still be one country, a feat not easily accomplished, but achievable. Through living in this wonderful country, I have seen peace and justice in action.

Castillo en Morella/Castle in Morella, Spain

 

There is no way to capture all that I have learned on this study abroad program, no way to measure the critical thinking skills and expansion of my view of the world and my place in it. I do know that I will be taking these skills with me beyond graduation and implementing them in both my professional and personal life. Culture is such an important aspect of interpersonal relations and an essential way to achieve peace and justice in the world is to have an understanding of how culture functions in our lives.

MSU Students Abroad - PJS Student Christina Igl

MSU Students Abroad – PJS Student Christina Igl

PJS Student Interns at the UN

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Hello! My name is Victoria Kulesza and I am a senior majoring in International Relations and Spanish with minors in Peace and Justice Studies, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and Eastern European and Eurasian Studies. During my time at MSU as a PJS student I have had numerous opportunities to utilize what I have learned in the classroom throughout the different internship opportunities I have had. Two summers ago, I was the Project Intern for a human rights NGO in Barcelona, Spain that provides for the basics needs and human rights of refugees and irregular migrants in the area. As a first-generation American, the experience really inspired me to advocate for the rights of refugees and immigrants―an issue that becomes increasingly relevant today. I have also been fortunate enough to spend this past summer in New York City interning for the United Nations Population Fund, an agency of the United Nations that promotes gender equality and international development. There I analyzed development plans for country offices all over the world and gained professional skills and connections that I would not have been able to find anywhere else.

Currently, I am part of the U.S. Department of State’s Virtual Student Foreign Service internship program working under Human Rights Officer of the U.S. embassy in La Paz, Bolivia. This is a virtual internship that allows me to research and report on human rights cases in Bolivia for the embassy while I finish my last year in East Lansing, so if you are also a student looking for any good opportunities for the year be sure to check out the VSFS program! After I graduate I hope to serve in the Peace Corps and later become a Foreign Service Officer for the State Department!

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PJS Student Interns in Benin, West Africa

 

Nora Unicef Photo

Guest Post by PJS Senior Nora Charron

During this past summer, I interned at the Institute for Empirical Research in Political Economy (IREEP) in Benin, West Africa. It is associated with the African School of Economics in Cotonou, the largest city in Benin.  I was one of four research assistants who worked on a public health research project while there. Our project focused on road accidents in Benin and how the emergency care system handles such incidents. The driving and rules of the road in Benin were unlike any other I have ever seen. There is always a great deal of traffic, and speed limits and lanes seemed more suggestive than enforced. There is a high percent of accidents each year resulting in many injuries and deaths as well. Often time’s medical taxis cannot take the injured to a hospital or clinic in a timely manner, or at all. It was really interesting to see the contrast between rural and urban areas with hospitals/clinic, seeing as more resources were in the urban areas. Using the statistical programing system STATA, my job included analyzing data collected and researching trends and laws, as well as compiling a formal final report to be used at the institute and in the long run the Ministry of Health.

Nora Cotonou Photo

Benin is a really vibrant and welcoming country. I spoke French for the majority of my internship, and while it was challenging I think my language skills have improved. I lived at the research institute with the other interns, and during free we liked going down to the stands on the main roads to buy vegetables or fruit, or our personal favorite fried plantain. We often went into Cotonou which was a short drive away and explore the city. While Benin is seen as a small country geographically, it had a lot of history and culture to offer.

I think my favorite part of the internship was the opportunities we had to talk to professionals from UNICEF, WHO, UNAID and PSI. We interviewed and were able to speak with different people within these organizations about their thoughts and work on road accidents, as well as other health disparities in Benin or West Africa as a whole. I really enjoyed being able to go to the offices of these organizations and understand how they are run and see first- hand the kind of work they do. Any of these organizations are ones I would love to work for so it was really beneficial and interesting.  I loved being in Africa over the summer and am looking forward to the next time I go back!

 

PJS Student Interns in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Jamie Denenberg (center) with fellow volunteers at Thai Freedom House.

Jamie Denenberg (center) with Thai Freedom House students PingPing (left) and None (right) at the non-profit cafe that they run.

Hi! My name is Jamie Denenberg. I have a double major in International Relations and Economics with a double minor in Peace and Justice studies and Jewish Studies. This past summer I spend 7 weeks interning at Thai Freedom House in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Thai Freedom House provides free community education for the local Burmese minority refugees in the local area. Burma is notoriously known for its violence toward their ethnic minorities. Currently, there are around 3 million Burmese refugees living in Thailand. Throughout my time at Thai Freedom House I was able to work directly with the refugees while seeing the difficulties, and rewards, connected to running an International NGO. While I did many things during my time there, the most rewarding experiences came while I I was tutoring an 18-year-old girl, Own Khin. Own Khin came from the Shan State in Burma and was working in Thailand for the summer.

Own and Jamie

Own Khin and Jamie.

Due to the structure of the Burmese education sytem, Own Khin was unable to pass Burma’s standardized tests to complete Grade 10. For two hours a day, five days a week I met with her for one-on-one English tutoring which will hopefully help her pass the English section of her exam. The impact of this tutoring did not resonate with me until I received a text message from her the day I was leaving Thailand, simply stating “I will always remember you.-Own Khin”. Working in Thailand has not only taught me about the Burmese culture, but the important impact a grassroot NGO can make on people’s lives. Without Thai Freedom House, many of the students would not have an opportunity to get an education. This experience has reiterated my love for travel and working with different cultures.

Model AU Mali Delegation

Guest Post by PJS student Moussa Traoré

I recently attended the Model AU Conference as a peace and justice student and the vice president of African Student Leadership Association (ASLA) which was created to ponder and propose solutions to a broad range of issues affecting the world and African people through entrepreneurship, political participation, environmental sustainability, economic and social development, and peace promotion.

Due to our vision and mission, I have successful participated at the Model African Union Conference for the last two years. This year at the 13th Model African Union Conference at Howard University, we represented Mali and the Central African Republic. With a delegation of 15 MSU graduate and undergraduate students, personally I represented Mali as an officer and vice chair for peace and security committee. Where I had to double task participate as and delegate of peace and security and as an officer for peace and security community as well. We discussed and wrote resolutions on several issues 1. African Standby Force 2. Conflict Management and Resolution in: A. Egypt B. Sudan-Darfur C. Somalia D. The Situation in Mali E. The Central African Republic F. South Sudan.

Model African Union Voting
At the end of the model we were subject to submit to the Assembly of Heads of State and Government one consolidated resolution on each one of the agenda topics.  Once we arrived in DC, we visited both the Mali and Central African Republic embassy where we engaged in an informative dialog with representatives from each country that assisted us in advocating for their country better. We were even lectured by the African Union ambassador to the United States Dr Amina Salum Ali. In four consecutive days, I participated in intense diplomatic procedure in order to improve peace and security issues plus many other African issues, I worked harmoniously and efficiently together with other student delegates from colleges in the US and Canada.

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As I end another productive year, I look forward to peace and justice study growing and cultivating peace and justice globally through many programs and courses that raises the awareness of current peace and justice issues on the Michigan State University campus.

Activism revolves around all aspects of social justice comedian Sam Killermann’s life

Guest post by PJS student Victoria Kulesza

Sam Killermann is not only a comedian, but a creator of many different outlets that educate about bigotry, identity, and expression. He’s given a Tedx Talk called “Understanding Complexities of Gender”, came up with the one-man comedy show and blog  “It’s Pronounced Metrosexual”, founded a non-profit organization called Gamers Against Bigotry (currently on hiatus) and is the author of Social Justice Advocate’s Handbook: A Guide to Gender.

When asked about the beginning of his passion for social justice and activism, Killermann related that, “when I was a kid I struggled with my identity in the ways that a lot of people do…the confusion wasn’t about just the everyday puberty things…but could be pinpointed on my experience with my gender.”

College is where Killermann really began to “click” with his identity. Throughout his time studying a multitude of areas including Law and Society, Russian, German−and finally attaining a master’s from Bowling Green in Student Development, he came to the realization that, “I’m a gendered person and that my gender affects the way that other people interact with me and the ways that I am allowed to interact with other people.”

Sam claims that he uses his degree more than his peers and thus has been traveling the country in order to talk to students and write articles about gender, identity, and oppression. “Conversations involve a lot of young people and I am going to be doing some presentations at high schools, which I don’t usually really get to do, and even some middle schools and which I’m really excited about. And that’s been connecting me with my younger self.”

Killermann thus uses his education and passion for social justice in order to create platforms that make education more accessible to a larger, younger audience. “We need to stop mystifying knowledge with jargon”, he asserts. Through projects such as Gamers Against Bigotry, a non-profit where members from 200 countries (more countries than Xbox Live!) pledged not to use bigoted language to prevent threatening environments, and the Genderbread Illustration that is pictured in his book Sam strives to contribute to the field and foster more awareness of the complexities of identity.

These efforts, similar to many social movements and campaigns, however have not been short of experiencing backlash and criticism. Killerman states that he has received negative responses from both the LGBTQ community and MRAs (otherwise known as Men’s Rights Activists) and describes it as being between a “rock and a hard place”.

“Part of the social justice movement…that I have to come to terms with is that people don’t see me as a person a lot of times but they see me as a public figure and a public figure means that you are open to more criticism.”

Killermann is currently living in Austin, Texas and has current plans to write 3 books; such as a guide to sexuality and revolution as well as a children’s book about social justice. He also plans on creating a sex-comedy show which he will perform in Texas.

Author Bio: Victoria Kulesza is a third year student majoring in International Relations and Spanish. She is also a captain of the MSU Fencing Club and a member of MSU International Relations Organization. She has a passion for social justice that is fostered through the Peace and Justice Studies program and one day hopes to work for the United Nations, a human rights NGO, or the Department of State.

No Justice, No Peace, No Racist Police

Guest post by PJS student Briana Ramos

In October 2014, I attended the Amnesty International MidWest Regional Conference in St. Louis Missouri. I’m not sure if any of you have been keeping up on the news hovering over that area of this great country we call home, but it has been pretty grim. On August 9, 2014 in a suburb of St. Louis called Ferguson, an 18 year old black man named Michael Brown was shot and killed in the streets by a white police officer. The police was called on Michael by the owner of a QuikTrip convenience store, who accused Michael of trying to rob him. When the police officer encountered Michael, he was unarmed. Some say that he had his hands up in surrender, but the facts are unclear. Currently, the police officer who shot Michael, Darren Wilson, is awaiting the grand jury decision to see if he will be indicted. For those of you who don’t know, an indictment would be the formal charge or accusation of a serious crime. The history for police indictment is not positive, and the general public fears that Wilson will get off with no criminal charges.

Peaceful protestor in Ferguson, photo credit BBC.com

Peaceful protestor in Ferguson, photo credit BBC.com

 

I think the way that the mass media is portraying the situation in Ferguson, or the lack of portrayal, is decreasing the feelings of empathy from the general public. Before going to St. Louis and hearing people speak who have been “on the front lines” of Ferguson and seeing the town with my own eyes, I was someone who thought “Oh, that Ferguson thing is still going on?” I have even heard people say “Why is it such a big deal, this isn’t the first and it won’t be the last time an unarmed black man has been shot and killed by a white police officer.”, upon my return to Michigan.  But Ferguson is so much more than that. Just because the media no longer shows what is going on, doesn’t mean that the struggle is not ongoing.

After attending workshops and panel discussions as well as protesting in downtown St. Louis all weekend, mostly about gun violence and some about police brutality, we decided to stop by Ferguson on our way back home. Ferguson was only a 22 minute drive from our hotel in St. Louis. We stopped at a local grocery store in Ferguson to purchase flowers to place at Michael’s memorial site. Driving into Ferguson along Florissant Road, which has been the main site of the protesting, we passed many businesses, many with boarded up windows, some closed even though it was the middle of the day. I was struck by the people who were driving about their town, going about their daily routine. I counted four white people, which is interesting, because I had learned earlier that weekend at the conference that Ferguson’s police force consisted of 3 black and 52 white police officers. Their police force is obviously not a representation of the community it is supposed to be protecting and serving. We passed the QuikTrip general store on our right, the front burned and the whole property gated off. There were banners on the fence in front of the building.

Protestors in Ferguson, photo credit fergusonoctober.com

Protestors in Ferguson, photo credit fergusonoctober.com

A turn down Canfield Ave. and we were at the site where Michael Brown was murdered. It was an area surrounded by apartment buildings and houses. I can only imagine what it would be like to hear six gunshots ringing right outside your apartment window. There was a huge pile of memorabilia not only against the light post pole, but also in the middle of the road, in between the yellow lines, exactly where Michael Brown had laid for four hours before being removed. There were signs saying things like “We love you Michael”, but also “Hands up, Don’t Shoot”, which was a chant I had been chanting earlier that weekend in front of the St. Louis police station. That sign is what really hit me hard. Chanting and protesting is one thing, but when you actually see what you were chanting for with your own eyes, it makes it that much more real.

Michael Brown's memorial site, photo credit Briana Ramos.

Michael Brown’s memorial site, photo credit Briana Ramos.

I think we often tend to lose sight of what we are actually fighting for. As social activists for peace and justice we fight for the rights of human beings. It is easy to get caught up in the protests we are involved in and how they make us feel like we are making a difference. But really, our main job should be getting other people involved in what we are fighting for. In order to take a “moment” like Ferguson and make it a movement we must get people interested and involved. We also should be communicating with organizers like us who are working at “ground zero” about what they need.

This topic of police brutality is so relevant to all our lives. If you think it doesn’t happen near you, you’re wrong. So far in 2014, 72 unarmed American citizens have been victims of police brutality. Together, we can make this issue known and pave the way for change in our society. We cannot let our rage about what happened in Ferguson die, because this issue will continue to come up again and again. Find out ways to get involved with your community. I know that I am guilty of this as well, but just obtaining the Peace and Justice Specialization is not enough. We must act on what we learn in the classroom, whether it be through clubs on campus, protests, or other organizations. There is no limit to the amount of people that need your help.

Looking for ways to get involved in Ferguson or Police Brutality? Contact me:
Briana Ramos, ramosbr1 (at) msu (dot) edu

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Please join us on Thursday, November 13 at 3pm as PJS Core Faculty member Ed Murphy (History) gives the talk “Art, Activism, and Transnational Solidarity: Chile under Dictatorship.” PJS Director Elizabeth Drexler will moderate the talk, which will be followed by refreshments in LookOut! Art Gallery.

The event is being held in conjunction with two exhibitions at the LookOut! Art Gallery running from November 3 – 21. “Tapestry as Testimony: Arpilleras of Chile,” is an exhibition of Chilean arpilleras from the collection of Eliana Loveluck, and “Broken,” is an installation addressing human trafficking by Sally Thielen & Susan Clinthorne. Sponsored by RCAH, MSU Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives, Our Daily Work/Our Daily Lives, MSU Department of History, and PJS.