This past week saw the celebration of Peace Week on Manhattan College’s campus. With documentaries, presentations and discussions on issues ranging from the psychological effects of warfare to Middle Eastern human rights, the events were both diverse and thought provoking.
Yet for many a MC student, the week might have passed by like any other, aside from perhaps noticing additional fliers posted around campus and more email announcements sitting in their respective inboxes.
Unfortunately, this type of lackadaisical response from some speaks volumes as to why it is so important that we observe Peace Week in the first place.
Thomas Ferguson, director of the college’s peace studies program, was primarily responsible for organizing the week’s events. “We are one of the oldest peace studies programs in existence and we have had a long tradition in working for the cause of peace,” Ferguson said.
“I hope Peace Week will give students something to think about, something to mull over and maybe even act on if they feel something.”
It can be easy for the average student to become self-absorbed amidst the ivory tower of collegiate life. With the demands of classes, exams, assigned readings, part-time jobs and school activities, far too often we become blindsided to the impacts of larger concerns outside the academic pursuits on our Riverdale campus.
Especially with issues relating to international conflict and social unrest in countries such as the Ukraine, Venezuela and Syria, we might find ourselves apathetically saying, “What does it matter to me?”
It is therefore especially important that we take the time for events such as Peace Week to focus on these issues that don’t seem to blatantly disrupt our daily schedules.
While it certainly can be overwhelming and at times even downright depressing to face the many challenges and problems confronting our society, awareness is the first step to making a difference.
“I think in 1971 when the program was founded, the world was a lot bigger. Now it’s a lot smaller and the conflicts seem much nearer,” Ferguson said.
“Ukraine to many people is far, far away, but it’s not. We have connections to Ukraine, connections to Russia, connections to the European Union, all who are involved in this. So it’s important for everyone to be aware of what is going on in the world, be it Ukraine, Africa or Southeast Asia.”
On the small scale, remaining informed allows us to make educated decisions on voting ballots and how we choose to spend our own limited financial resources.
At the very least, a general concern for the welfare of our fellow human beings should motivate us to stay educated on problems relating to human rights, violence, poverty, freedom and peace.
As a Lasallian institution, Manhattan College plays a part in the tradition of Catholic Social Teaching that emphasizes protecting the dignity of all persons, no matter their identifying characteristics or cultural background.
Its students, regardless of their personal religious beliefs, should also heed that call to care for the common good of humanity. Now more than ever, it can be easy to remain comfortable in an era marked by what religious leaders such as Pope Francis have called a “globalization of indifference.” While technology has connected the world in mind-boggling ways, at times it has appeared that we have grow ever more isolated, concerned only with what impacts our own lives.
“A lively awareness of our relatedness helps us to look upon and treat each person as a true sister or brother,” Francis said in his announcement for the World Day of Peace on Jan. 1.
“Without fraternity it is impossible to build a just society and a solid and lasting peace.”
Whether you made it to at least one event or not, what is the next step now that Peace Week is over? Start by taking a few minutes out of your day to step away from the latest Buzzfeed quiz or episode of your favorite TV show. Try to gain some knowledge of overall current events that is more in depth than what can be encapsulated in a 140-character sentence. Read an article, turn on the nightly news and schedule time to make it to the next lecture or event on campus promoting an issue of importance.
Historically, college campuses in America have often been the birthplace for progressive civil movements and social change against injustice. As a group of people who have been granted the privilege of receiving an education (something that Peace Week should remind us is truly a gift), we should also feel the responsibility of using it for something greater than ourselves.
Yet, it’s hard take action to improve our world if we don’t look around us to see what needs changing.