PJS Student Spotlight Bree Casper
“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.
Working in the garden
Doing service for the annual Russ Mawby Signature Service Project
A picture of MSU Volunteers working in the garden for a service day
Posing for a photo with fellow AmeriCorps member in the Children’s Garden
PJS Student Spotlight: Jen 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.
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.
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.
PJS Student Interns at the UN
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!