Features

Peace Pole Planted at MC as Inclusive Public Art

by, Caroline McCarthy & Colleen McNamara, Staff Writers

To symbolize inclusion, Manhattan College planted a peace pole on the quadrangle this past summer in an effort to create a more just society. This pole, planted in late July, displays the phrase “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in eight different languages decided upon by the students and faculty in the peace and justice studies program at the college. 

These languages include Arabic, English, French, Gaelic, Mandarin Chinese, Mohawk, Hebrew and Spanish. These languages were chosen to represent the student body, as well as the surrounding community. 

According to WorldPeace.org, there are over 250,000 peace poles in every country of the world. The goal of the peace poles is to “symbolize the oneness of humanity and our common wish for a world at peace.” 

Kevin Ahern, associate professor of religious studies and former peace studies director at MC, was crucial in planting the college’s new peace pole. 

“Unfortunately, a lot of our public art on campus is a bit dated from when the campus was first starting,” Ahern said. “In the recent conversations around diversity and racial justice, there are proposals or critiques that we need to have more public art that reflects more the students that are on campus now, rather than the students that were on campus a hundred years ago, or 50 years ago. Our mission was to reflect both the student body, heritage and our geographical location in New York.”

The peace pole carries a deep meaning and a sense of unity within a community. According to Ahern, the peace pole is a powerful symbol. 

“We needed the peace pole on campus as a symbol of our commitment to work for the end of the war and work for a more just society,” Ahern said. 

Professor Ahern and his son, Finn, build a peace pole out of Legos at home, complete with the translations of different languages.
KEVIN AHERN / COURTESY

The students and faculty thought it important to have the peace pole planted in 2020 because it marks the 75th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. Additionally, they hope it will be a representation of current political and social problems facing the world today and the college’s promise to fight them.

“I think it’s the perfect time to put up the peace pole,” Ireland Twiggs, a senior peace and justice major, said. “It serves as a positive reminder for people walking to and from class.” 

Before advocating for a peace pole to be planted on campus, Ahern was involved in a number of “peaceful plantings” including the site at Fordham University, his alma mater, and in Rwanda. 

“Within the New York City area, we’re one of the few Catholic colleges that did not have a peace pole on our campus,” Ahern said. “Fordham, Mount St. Vincent’s and Iona all have peace poles.”

COVID-19 restrictions prohibited the college from hosting an official unveiling ceremony of the peace pole on Sept. 21st, as planned for the International Day of Peace. But, this didn’t stop Ahern and his son Finn, a future peace and justice advocate, from visiting other peace poles in the area. 

“Part of our dealing with COVID has been going and finding peace poles and my five-year-old and I taking pictures with them,” Ahern said. 

Ahern and his son have visited over a dozen surrounding peace poles and even designed one of their own with legos. This hobby sparked a new activity for students to engage in. 

“One of the things we’re actually looking to do is to try to have a peaceful treasure hunt for students to find peace poles in the New York City area and take pictures with them,” Ahern said.  

Students can check one pole off the list just by walking through the quadrangle, where the peace pole is prominently displayed. 

The peace pole is only one of the many efforts by the peace and justice studies program to foster a more inclusive environment. Worldly conflicts contribute to an improving curriculum for peace and justice studies. 

“It is time to launch a new curriculum that was geared more at giving students peace and justice studies, more skill sets, peacebuilding and conflict resolution and more career paths going forward,” Ahern said. 

Students also hope to see the expansion of the program in an effort to create a curriculum that will inspire future generations of peacemakers and enact change. 

“I love the peace and justice studies program so much,” Twiggs said. “I hope that they continue to grow [the program]. I think we could use a lot more people working towards peace and reconciliation.”

One of these students working toward peace is Rachel Rocca, the co-president of the Just Peace organization on campus. Rocca, along with other students, are thrilled about having the peace pole placed at the most central part of campus. 

“I think it’s super awesome and I’m really happy with how visible it is,” Rocca said. “I think it’s really important, especially in this crazy time we’re living in where everything is really intense and unstable, it’s really nice and powerful to have that message of peace.”

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