Peace Week 2016: Going Beyond Borders

Every year at Manhattan College, we have Peace Week, a week for the community to gather for a series of events based on a specific theme. With all of the current problems regarding borders in the world today – such as the conflicts between Israel and Palestine, Syria and Turkey, and the U.S. and Mexico – it is only appropriate that this year’s focus will be on borders.

Dr. Kevin Ahern, director of the peace studies department, is one of the people behind this week of events. Since this September will mark the 50th anniversary of peace studies at MC, it is especially important for him this year.

“When we came up with the theme we didn’t know that we would have this whole interesting debate around the mock border. It flows from that into a conversation about the role of borders. So we’ll start off with a conversation with students with Engineers Without Borders,” said Ahern.

He believes that this is an ideal event to kick off the week because of its pertinence to the theme.

“They’re literally building bridges instead of borders. There are also borders on campus – between students in engineering and students in the arts – so how do we bridge these borders? That’s something that I think is really interesting,” he said.

The event is on Monday, March 7th, and Engineers Without Borders (EWB) will have their presentation “Building a World Without Borders: Engineers and Peace” in room 4A. Students who are a part of EWB will share with the college what they do and how we can support them.

One of these students is Dana Coniglio, who is excited to get the word out about what their plans are.

“I think it’s awesome to be a part of EWB because it allows us to step out of our busy work-load and course work and become emerged in the needs of others. It reminds us engineers why we do what we do – to serve others. We are so excited to be a part of Peace Week. We want to spread the word across campus and stress that this is not only an engineering club. We need chemistry majors and biology majors and business majors to get our mission across. We want to make a difference and see the change and we are so excited to have this opportunity,” said Coniglio.

EWB currently has two projects going on. One is in Cameroon, Africa, which is a bridge project, and one domestic project on the way that has to do with water equality. They are still in the process of fundraising, and donations are appreciated at

Following this, on Tuesday March 8th at 4:00 pm in Hayden 100, Peace Week will also host “The U.S. Militarization of Korea: A Catholic Response”. Two incredibly important people will be welcomed to campus that day. One of them is Fr. Mun Jeong Hyeon, Korean priest, peace activist, and winner of the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights.

Ahern explains that Hyeon is a significant figure to have because of the work he has done to raise awareness of and protest against the presence of the U.S. military bases in parts of Korea where, in some cases, the soldiers have committed crimes.

“They aren’t really held accountable because they’re somewhat immune from local jurisdiction. As a catholic priest, Hyeon raises a lot of awareness of social justice issues for peace and for issues of the increased presence of the U.S. military there,” said Ahern.

The other guest for this event is Martha Hennessy, catholic worker, activist, and the granddaughter of Dorothy Day. Hennessy is continuing her grandmother’s legacy of fighting for social justice and peace – not only in America but all over the world.

Day once graced our campus many years ago when her legendary career as a journalist and activist was taking off, and now we are lucky enough to have Hennessey here as well.

“It’s not everyday that we get to see the granddaughter of a saint on campus,” said Ahern.

On Wednesday, March 9th at 12:30 in Kelly Commons 3B, Dr. Nuwan Jayawickreme, assistant professor of psychology, will present “The Psychology of Borders”. This will be a lunch conversation about how our brain has evolved to see “the other”.

When we see someone who’s a stranger, how does our brain work to address that? On some level we might be fighting with our own brain chemistry. If we can understand what the struggle is, maybe we can overcome some of the xenophobia and racism we see today,” said Ahern.

Dr. Jayawickreme was able to give us a look into what he will be presenting.

“I define ‘borders’ as the psychological barriers that separate groups of people from one another. I will discuss some of the psychological attributes humans have that cause us to be more protective and empathetic of those who are perceived to be in our group (the in-group), and distrustful and even hateful of those who belong to a different group (the out-group). I will discuss the evolutionary reasons for why humans developed this tendency to separate individuals into in-groups and out-groups and what we can do to short circuit this tendency and help those who are unlike us and need aid,” said Jayawickreme.

The final event of the week will be “The Responsibility to Protect and the Future of Borders” on Thursday, March 10th at 4:30 in Kelly Commons 5B. The guest will be Dr. Simon Adams: Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.

Dr. Adam’s presentation will be focusing on the fact that if there is a humanitarian crisis occurring somewhere in the world that the local government is doing nothing to stop, then it is the responsibility of the national community to step in.

“He’s a very influential thinker in the terms of borders, he has a lot of important insights. In a sense, borders disappear in the face of grave human rights violations,” Ahern said.

These events will undoubtedly spark meaningful conversations about the boundaries that break up the world.

Ahern stresses the importance of understanding these worldly issues and coming up with ways to address them: “It’s an interesting mix of activists, academics, and students. I think the world is becoming more and more closely connected, so how do we understand the boundaries that separate us? How do we work together to help each other? I think this is the role of a college: to bring different perspectives together.”