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Peace Scholar Forum Blog #1: October 2013

Hello everyone! BTAC and the Peace Scholars program are going well back in the United States at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, SD! In preparation for the Peace Prize Forum this coming spring 2014, the Peace Scholars from this summer have a set of monthly blog posts for the website. Our question for October was: How has your trip in Norway translated into your experience at college this semester? Some of this information may be familiar to you, but I have some new logistical information about running Better Together - Augustana College as well. Thanks for reading! Peace be with you. 

Peace Scholar Blog: October 2013 

Perhaps nothing prepares the mind, soul, and lifestyle so well for transformation as travel

!

This previous summer I had the privilege of attending the International Summer School at the University of Oslo, Norway (UiO-ISS) as a scholar of the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize Forum. (Find out more about the Peace Scholar program here: http://nobelpeaceprizeforum.org/)

Physically immersed into an international dialogue of peaceful conflict resolution, I found myself not only learning from intensive political science courses as a Peace Scholar, but even more, from the everyday conversations and relationships with students from diverse cultural backgrounds. (Read more about my experiences from my summer blog: http://aehjerpe-norway2013.tumblr.com/)

From the perspective of a foreign traveler, I was able to perceive my own identity, nationality, and perceptions of the international community with fresh eyes. Not only did this new gaze allow for a more profound learning and knowing of others and their cultures, but also, it provided a renewed sense of understanding and appreciation for my own being—especially in a sense of spiritual geography, as my Peace Scholars project focused on interfaith dialogue.

Interfaith dialogue is a form of intercultural conversation that is focused on the religious beliefs and traditions of individuals. As a student-scholar of faith, I was able to learn about the richness of other religious traditions from around the world, while still maintaining a sense of dignity and integrity in my own Western-Christian background. In such conversations, I was able to both question and deepen parts of my own faith, and develop a more informed and empathetic understanding of others with faith different from my own.

Such honest and open conversations about faith are best held in a context of relationship or community, and for the first time in my collegiate experience, I was able to have such conversations with other student-ambassadors and scholars from around the world at UiO-ISS. Could this experience of interfaith dialogue be continued on my home campus of Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota? Could we have an intercultural and interfaith dialogue?

With a growing population of international students from diverse faith backgrounds, and a core value of Christian in our mission statement that encourages exploring and growing in faith, I believed that interfaith dialogue on our campus would be possible. Working with the Peace Scholars program to gather materials and to determine a project to sustain on return to campus, I began the process of starting Better Together Augustana College (BTAC).

Better Together, a program of Interfaith Youth Core, is an interfaith dialogue organization for colleges in the United States. One of my fellow Peace Scholars was an interfaith scholar and a representative of Better Together at her home college, and she gave me advice about workshops on her home campus involving intrafaith (Christian non-denominational) and interfaith (multiple religion) dialogue. Using some of the resources of Better Together, but formatting a program that was best suited for my MidWest, mainly-Christian campus, I worked towards starting up the interfaith group at the beginning of the school year. (Visit the official website for IFYC-Better Together here: http://www.ifyc.org/better-together)

Augustana College has a collective of official student-lead organizations called ASA, and so the first thing to do was to run a year of the program and to find it sustainable before approving BTAC as an official ASA organization or club. Meeting every second Sunday of the month at 1pm, BTAC hosts a dialogue workshop where all students, professors and community members are invited to learn and discuss faith with their international neighbors on campus. So far, three workshops have been planned, with each one being lead by a student ambassador of a different faith tradition: Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Christian denominations will present in December; the spring lineup includes Judaism, Agnosticism, and an interfaith worship event.

(Check out the BTAC Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Better-Together-Augustana-College/499733586786439)

So far, the reception has been good: 15-20 students show up for each event, and interest is growing as the word continues to spread. This is a great start! Attendance may continue to be low for several years, until it becomes a more prominent ASA organization; schedule conflicts of worship and homework are always present, but hopefully, a once-monthly meeting at 1pm will help to make meetings more manageable.

Other conflicts to overcome include differences of communication and time expectations between cultural backgrounds, as well as the resistance of some faith backgrounds toward any form of interfaith conversation, and a misunderstanding of the program as evangelism or moral relativity. However, agreement is not the goal of dialogue. The mission statement of BTAC is this:

“Better Together AC is a place for students from diverse faith traditions to gather over a meal and listen to stories, learn from presentations, ask questions, discuss ideas, and form relationships with others that are respectful, empathetic and informed.”

Sustainability of the program is also a question, just as it is for many volunteer non-profit organizations, activates, and clubs. Currently, students interested in the Peace Scholars program, as well as Augustana Mission for Peace, and Augustana Goes International, are likely to help with sustaining the program. The Chapel of Reconciliation on campus, our ELCA-Lutheran Christian center of worship, is a key player in maintaining the program.

The conversations and relationships that grow with BTAC on campus have allowed for a new type of community and conversation—one that allows for the intimate and whole representation of an individual’s identity. And as the landscape of America continues to rapidly diversify in faith tradition, it is all the more significant for students to engage in conversations with their neighbors to navigate the spaces of difference, and uplift the spaces of similarity, in order to have a more familiar, peaceful, and compassionate world.

Peace to you!

—Alexandra, EiC

 

 

 

Better Together: Augustana College IFYC

Here is one of the resources that I have been working on for intercultural and interfaith dialogue with faculty and staff on my home campus! This was an application of my studies in English and journalism; reading and crystalizing the main points of scholarly articles, constructing these main points to a target audience through creative and appealing text. I hope you find this informative, useful and enjoyable! 

Better Together Workshop Goals

Here is one of the resources that I have been working on for intercultural and interfaith dialogue with students on my home campus! This was an application of my studies in English and journalism; reading and crystalizing the main points of scholarly articles, constructing these main points to a target audience through creative and appealing text. I hope you find this informative, useful and enjoyable! 

Interfaith Dialogue: Portraits of Peacemakers

Here is one of the resources that I have been working on for intercultural and interfaith dialogue with students on my home campus! This was an application of my studies in English and journalism; reading and crystalizing the main points of scholarly articles, constructing these main points to a target audience through creative and appealing text. I hope you find this informative, useful and enjoyable! 

Intercultural Dialogue in Action: Augustana College IFYC

Here is one of the resources that I have been working on for intercultural and interfaith dialogue with students on my home campus! This was an application of my studies in English and journalism; reading and crystalizing the main points of scholarly articles, constructing these main points to a target audience through creative and appealing text. I hope you find this informative, useful and enjoyable! 

Introductory Student Resources:  Intro to Intercultural Dialogue, Lead into introducing Interfaith Dialogue & Better Together

Peace Seminar Presentation: Peacemaking, Incarnate

In class today, each peace scholar will give a presentation on our peace thesis, research, or project for the summer at UiO-ISS! When I began my research, I had initially focused on doing a lot of research, writing a substantial paper, submitting it for an honors title, and moving along my way.

Yet perhaps it is this narrowed focus that is one of the greatest problems in the world academia: the failure to apply new, powerful information learned over courses, discussions, research and experiences into effective action and physical change; and the failure to communicate this information with others.

Peacemaking, and any advocacy work in action, does not have to be something that dramatically changes the world—or even your home community. But as engaged, aware, and empathetic citizens of our nation and the world, we do have a civic duty and responsibility that calls for an alignment of our beliefs and our actions.

The daily interactions of any person, not only peace scholars or students of academia, with others and the surrounding environment can be an intentional communication and engagement with text. And these daily peacemaking skills are highly valuable, and move change from an intimate, relational, and grassroots level. 

However, I believe there can be even more engagement and application of this learning; and this action can be especially effective from individuals in empowered positions, networks, and mediums where their voices can be heard. 

Some individuals have an ability to communicate in between diverse populations from an administrative stand; others have the community involvement to spread peace in daily conversation and lifestyle. Some have been especially empowered with talents and opportunities for leadership in this kind of peaceful action. Yet none is of any greater or less value, and all has a place in the body of change. 

In a search I have begun to more fully explore this summer, I continue to seek out my balance of personal change and administrative change in the communication of peaceful information. With the opportunity to interact with international scholars, dialogue leaders, accredited professors, NGO and Government administrators, passionate advocates, dedicated researchers, and good, empathetic, friendly people from all over the world, I have been absolutely drenched in the vibrant human ocean of creativity and ideation. With the dialogue, narrative, criticism, support, and resources available through my opportunity as a Peace Scholar, I feel my very self expanding—their knowledge in sparking mind, their conflict stinging my eyes, their passion pumping my heart, their voices leaping from my mouth.

And with this world of others as a part of me, as within me, I can no longer sit in silence about the frightening things: I have to speak. I have to learn about what will be difficult, and maybe impossible to learn. I have to listen to what will be painful to hear. I have to wrestle with questions and find rest in the absence, or tensions, between answers. And I cannot leave it highlighted in the pages of my textbook, typed on the sheets of my exams, and mute on the screen of my laptop journal. I need to incarnate this dialogue for peace, and put it into a life of action and voice, making visible and audible what is otherwise silent. 

This experience in Norway has been, in this case, a tangible, tactile, experiential one. It could not be done in theory. It could not be achieved as an A through studying while my friends went out dancing. It had to be taken by the hand, on a relational, personally-engaged level, and I have felt and felt every moment of it. 

As I said before, I continue to seek out my balance of personal change and administrative change in the communication of peaceful information. But long have I buried myself in the realm of academia and research, and allowed the interpersonal to become my sole action. I know now that I have the voice, and the power, and the choice to make a difference from this new and rare and beautiful position of global body. I will answer it. 

Stay where you are. Find your own Calcutta. Find the sick, the suffering, and the lonely right where you are—in your homes and in your own families, in your workplaces and in your schools. You can find Calcutta all over the world, if you have the eyes to see.

- Mother Teresa

The beautiful country of Norway! 

The beautiful country of Norway! 

Exploring at the Nobel Peace Institute and Museum, Oslo, Norway

Peace Scholars 2013 at the press room of the Nobel Peace Prize Institute and Library, Oslo, Norway

Peace Scholars 2013 at the press room of the Nobel Peace Prize Institute and Library, Oslo, Norway

Peace Scholars Seminar: (maybe) Missionaries

One of the most compelling articles we read for class was Marianne Gullestad’s “Chapter 2: Establishing a Goodness Regime” in Picturing Pity: Pitfalls and Pleasures in Cross Cultural Communication – Image and Word in a North Cameroon Mission, 2007. What a provocative chapter title—goodness regime!—let alone book title!

On reading this article, I found myself in a tension between insider and outsider, advocate and accused through the reading. How do you approach a criticism of missionary work from a social justice narrative, as a social-justice-peacemaker-missionary?

Gullestad is an anthropologist: the article is an analytical, rational criticism weighing the benefits—both intentional and unintentional—of the mechanics, money and media behind missionary work. A significant portion of the article examined the history of missionary work (and the missionaries, and their chosen mission fields, and their execution of mission work), noting the transitions from evangelism-first to the more recent service-as-an-end action of belief.

Several of Gullestad’s points aroused the social justice advocate within me and my classmates; the usual list of grievances were listed, from the lack of equal dignity towards those “served” to total cultural dissolve. Noting the limitations of Westernized institution and activities, the chapter examines the changes and dependencies of local culture as it focuses on the outer action; focusing on the inner workings of the church, Gullestad reveals a network of organizations “feeding” off of a rich, steady crowed of spiritual (financial) body. The usage of media in doing this—especially photographs—is noted in this critical assessment.

The text resonated with many of my frustrations and realizations with evangelistic mission work which I had developed over years in conversation with others less-than-supportive of evangelism, and in my own mission experience. The previous summer I had worked on an Indian Reservation in the USA for a Christian-service organization, providing a safe-house with a secure, friendly, nutritious (and, of course, Bible-story sharing) environment for children living in an intensely stressful environment. Knowing the reasons Gullestad listed and more, I was happy to talk with my peace-scholar friends and professors about living on the Rez—but leaving out the details that I was a part of a mission organization. I was hesitant to associate myself with the church, with it’s mechanics of money, mechanics and media so exposed so responsible for the damage of others—enough that some would call the church an “institution of structural violence” without hesitating. And in my time on the Rez hosting youth groups and service teams of incoming American youth throughout the summer, I had witnessed the best and the worst of evangelistic ministry. In the worst of times, a degrading, rich-giver-gives-and-poor-Indian-takes action occurred, with little dialogue and positive intercultural exchange.

Yet, in the best times, a mutually dignifying, equal give-and-take relationship began between two individuals from on and off the Rez, based on a sense of compassion and respect. Something humanizing happened; something that was not a temporary, evangelism-focused exchange, but a sustained, engaging friendship. Such relationships were rare, but extremely beautiful; they were the stuff of peacemaking and empathy, of exchange and transformation. A change and a humility was required of both individuals; a perspective of awareness, and approach of respect was necessary. This empowered both the giver and the receiver, and focused on a target outside of finances and faith coupe.

So could mission work—and missionaries—only be mechanisms of injustice and structural violence? Could nothing be said for the benefits?Is it possible that missionary service is still a valid action—or is it far to complex, too political, and to violent to vulnerable individuals and communities? I don’t think so.

Gullestad’s article is not at all a condemnation of missionary work; in fact, part of the text outlines the unique benefits of the mission sphere, including academic freedom for youth and spiritual independence for women. In its criticism, the text is an observational, unapologetic listing of the conflicts, benefits, and paradoxes of mission work. In her anthropologic work, Gullestad calls for greater responsibility and awareness of missionary impact, as well as financial and social transparency in mission works.

As a missionary-peacemaker-advocate, I receive such information as critical understanding of the work that the church does, internalize it, and use this education and awareness to make the most informed, responsible, sensitive and ethical actions possible. I recognize the potential for violence in local communities and seek actively to reduce this in whatever ways necessary. I recognize a history that has gradually changed to be more inclusive, more responsive, and more empathetic, as well as more service-end focused than evangelism-end focused, and seek to continue this tend. I note the monetary, academic, social and political influences behind missionaries and mission work, see myself as a part of this machinery, and learn to acknowledge these but allow immediate interactions with other human beings to take precedence. And I choose to recognize that only with an intentional, focused balance of listening, humility, awareness and responsiveness can I really approach others, changing the missionary landscape to giving-and-receiving rather than a one-way relationship. Isn’t that what the faith behind missionary work calls for in the first place? Isn’t that what being a peacemaker is all about as well? Are they not in pursuit of the very same goal: to bring great peace to all the world?

One thing is very certain: the stressful socio-political complexity and precarious help-harm binary of interacting with others must not freeze peacemakers like missionaries from action. The path towards equality is an ethical minefield, and we are all certain to make mistakes; however, the costs are far too high to abandon all such relationships and beliefs for the fear of loss. Perhaps the key is to continue on in gentleness, awareness, and an overall willingness to learn, receive, and move on, together. 

Peace Scholars Seminar: Peace Research Proposal

As Peace Scholars, we each propose a research topic at the beginning of the summer for our seminar and begin a research, writing and presentation process (that given the short amount of time, should carry farther into the coming school year/ draw on research formed in the past school year). For my topic, I decided to draw on my own core value and curiosity of religion at an intersection of global peacemaking; as an individual with a particular belief system, how do you interact with others in the world around you? How do you ask and receive questions? How do you hold a dialogue? How do you maintain your own belief system, while interacting with others in a way that is graceful, respectful, mutually dignifying, and seeking common ground? My research has included an interviewing, reading and writing process with the students and material resources here at ISS. Here is a snapshot from my thesis proposal:

            “History, in no shortage, has displayed that those who are not considered familiar and within a sphere of equal human dignity may quickly and easily become those who are misunderstood, dehumanized, and discriminated against—from the separation of utilities to direct and systematic genocide. And, in our present climate of increasing capacity and technology for violence, the global community can no longer afford local attitudes of apathy, ignorance, fear and hate to characterize the relationships between diverse individuals. It is the responsibility not only of peacemakers and global activists, but of all citizens desiring a more compassionate and peaceful world, to achieve greater levels of awareness and empathy for others who differ from themselves.

             In my own personal experiences of encountering others who are different from myself, and even directly opposed to my own nationality, religion, political beliefs and perceptions of the world, I have had the truly beautiful opportunity to build tolerance and relationships with those whom I had previously seen as an Other. In listening to the stories of others, I have developed empathy—the skill to imagine oneself in the position of another human being, and recognize the vulnerable, beautiful connections of human existence. In discovering a common ground of humanity through intentional empathy, compassion develops—and the yearning for a gentleness, safety, peace and mercy for all human beings becomes clear and inescapable.

            I strongly believe that such developments of empathy and compassion must further be developed not only through mutually respectful dialogue, but also practiced in active learning, teamwork, and relationship-building. The program developed by Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) offers all of these things, working specifically from a context of building understanding, tolerance and relationships between individuals of diverse religious backgrounds. Using the tremendous resources provided by IFYC, it is my goal to open a chapter for my own home campus: Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, USA.

            Although the founding principle behind IFYC is to reinforce the dignity and identity of diverse religious traditions, the very word “interfaith” has caused a great deal of resistance and concern. The main reasons are primarily for fear of: interfaith work reducing the value, dignity and sacredness of one’s own, distinct religious identity; blurring or corrupting the value, dignity and sacredness of one’s own, distinct religious identity; approving of, or supporting, the opposing value, dignity and sacredness of another’s religious identity. However, according to the resources and values readily available for IFYC and my own personal understanding of interfaith dialogue, the purpose of interfaith work is to achieve greater relationships, peace and understanding with others by focusing attention on the shared values of responsibility, awareness, honesty, mercy, compassion, and love between diverse people—thereby reducing the ignorance, misunderstanding, hostility, violence and hatred in the world heightened by the passion of religious intensity.

            Perhaps, such fears derive from a lack of similar experiences and opportunities of dialogue—of listening, hearing, and understanding through storytelling. After all, I only developed empathy, and then compassion, after I had the opportunity for such dialogue and diversity interaction to occur.  I want to examine whether these attitudes can be counteracted by exposure to such stories and opportunities.

            Therefore, the intention of my research while at the University of Oslo –International Summer School (ISS) will involve two parts: first, the thorough digestion of fundamental resources behind religious pluralism, provided and narrowed through a scope of IFYC. Second, cumulative application of my bachelor’s studies in English, journalism, and photojournalism to conduct interviews and gather stories from the wealth of ISS students and professors, as well as peace and dialogue advocates within Oslo in order to better understand the balanced practice of religious pluralism, specifically discussing the balance of tolerance and pluralism while maintaining the integrity of individual faith identity. From these resources, I aim to generate a strong proposal for IFYC at Augustana College—along with supportive media including news features, personality profiles, portraits, and potentially even a creative nonfiction collection of stories—to support the case of tolerant, peaceful, universally dignifying pluralism.” 

Peace Scholars Seminar: Syllabus

"Olo" from Oslo! : )

As I find myself approaching the last few weeks of summer here at the University of Oslo - International Summer School, I am condensing and crystalizing the main points of notes and research from my course: “Peace Prize Forum Seminar: Introduction to the Study of Peace and Human Rights in Norway” in order to prepare for finals, research presentations, and application on my home campus. Here is the outline of our schedule, and class readings, for this course by weekly theme! I highly recommend these readings, especially the ones marked with a star at the front!

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Week 1: Introduction to Norway, Scandinavia and the course

**Hylland Eriksen, Thomas. “Being Norwegian in a shrinking world: Reflections on Norwegian identity” in Anne Cohen Kiel, ed., Continuity and Change: Aspects of Modern Norway, Scandinavian University Press, Oslo, 1993

Ingebritsen, Christine. “Norm Entrepreneurs Scandinavia’s Role in World Politics.” Cooperation and Conflict 37, no. 1 (2002): 11-23.

**Bruni, Frank. “A nation that exports oil, herring and peace.” The New York Times

Eriksen, Thomas Hylland. “A darker shade of pale: Cultural intimacy in an age of terrorism Anthropology Today 27, no. 5 (2011): 1-2.

**Schwalbe, Michael. “The costs of American privilege.” http:// www.counterpunch.org/2002/10/04/the-costs-of-american-privilege/

Excursions: The Nobel Institute Library with guest speaker Bjørn Vangen, Head Librarian

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Week 2: From Vikings to peacemongers: constructing a peace “brand” in Norway

**Galtung, Johan. “Twenty-five years of peace research: ten challenges and some responses.” Journal of Peace Research 22, no. 2 (1985): 141-158.

Ingebritsen, Christine. “Chapter 4: Norway’s niche in world politics” in Scandinavia in World Politics. Lanham, M.D. : Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2006

Støre, Jonas Gahr. “Norway – a peace nation. Myth or fact?” Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 24 April 2006.

Thune, Henrik, and Ståle Ulriksen. “Norway as an Allied Peace Activist – Prestige and Penance Through Peace.” Norwegian Institute of International Affairs Paper 637 (2002) : 3-30.

Skånland, Øystein Haga. “‘Norway is a peace nation’: A discourse analytic reading of the Norwegian peace engagement.” Cooperation and Conflict 45, no. 1 (2010): 34-54

Excursions: Nobel Peace Center

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Week 3: Altruism and influence-peddling: the Norwegian foreign aid complex

**Gullestad, Marianne. 2007. “Chapter 2: Establishing a Goodness Regime” in Picturing Pity: Pitfalls and Pleasures in Cross Cultural Communication – Image and Word in a North Cameroon Mission, 2007

Bangstad, Sindre and Bjørn Enge Bertelsen. “Heart of darkness reinvented? A tale of ex-soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo.” Anthropology Today 26, no. 1 (February 2010) : 8-12

Tvedt, Terje. 2007. “International Development Aid and Its Impact on a Donor Country: A Case Study of Norway.”

“Norway’s aid budget doubled in nine years.” http://www.regjeringen.no/en/ dep/ud/press/news/2012/aidbudget2013.html?id=704094

Bergestuen, Bjørn Inge. “Foreign aid doesn’t work.” http://www.frp.no/Foreign +aid+doesn%E2%80%99t+work.d25-TwZbUY1.ips

Norheim, Kristian. “On the edge: trade and development.” http://www.frp.no/ On+the+Edge:+Trade+and+Development.d25-TMtDQ5Z.ips

Excursions: CARE: Defending Dignity, Fighting Poverty; Anders Nordstoga, Public Relations Officer

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Week 4: The politics of asylum and the reception of refugees (or, we liked you better over there

Moorehead, Caroline. 2005. “The Homeless and the Rightless.” in Human Cargo: A Journey Among Refugees.

**Crisp, Jeff. “Refugees and the global politics of asylum.” The Political Quarterly 74.s1 (2003): 75-87.

Hervik, Peter. “A newspaper campaign unlike any other” in The Annoying Difference: the Emergence of Neonationalism, Neoracism and Populism in the Post-1989 World. New York : Berghahn Books, 2011

**Hagelund, Anniken. “Why it is bad to be kind. Educating refugees to life in the welfare state. A case study from Norway.” Social Policy & Administration 39.6 (2005): 669-683.

Excursions: Torshov Transit Center for Asylum Seekers with Iris Hadziosman- ovic, Director

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Week 5: Expanding the rubber band: debating difference in the multicultural Norway

Hansen, Randall. “Migration to Europe since 1945: its history and lessons” in (ed. Sarah Spencer) The Politics of Migration: Managing Opportunity, Conflict and Change. Malden, M.A. : Blackwell, 2003

**Brochmann, Grete and Knut Kjeldstadli. 2010. “Introduction” in A History of Immigration: The Case of Norway, 900-2000.

Bangstad, Sindre. “The morality police are coming! Muslims in Norway’s media discourses.” Anthopology Today 27, no. 5 (October 2011) : 3-7

Gullestad, Marianne. “Normalising racial boundaries: the Norwegian dispute about the term neger.” Social Anthropology 13, no. 1

**Modood, Tariq. “A defence of multiculturalism.” Soundings 29.1 (2005): 62-71 Åshild and Ungdom mot rasisme folks

Excursions: NAV Intro: The Welfare State Confronts the Multicultural Society; Building community and pursuing a more representative politics: Holmlia Youth Center; with Elvis Chi Nwosu, Leader, Holmlia Labor Party

 

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Week 6: Final presentations and closure

May, Todd. “Is American nonviolence possible?” The New York Times. 21 April 2013.

Jul 2

Opening Ceremony for International Summer School!

Jul 2

Viegland Sculpture Park