Peace Week Sparks Social Justice Awareness at MC

by Kelly Cwik & Adrianne Hutto, Asst. Arts and Entertainment Editor & Asst. Production Editor

Peace and Justice week is a time to show how Manhattan College is dedicated to maintaining a diverse, informative environment on campus. For over 35 years this event has been held, in an effort to raise awareness and educate members of the college community. This year, Peace and Justice week took place Feb. 21-26 and began with a justice-themed mass on Sunday and concluded with the dedication of the Peace Pole, located on the quadrangle. 

The Dedication of the Peace Poll outside Smith Auditorium on Friday, February 26th was the final event of Peace and Justice Week 2021

The theme for this year was: “Remembering What Really Happened: Peace and Justice of the New Millennium.” The Quadrangle spoke with Dr. Nuwan Jayawickreme, the Program Director of Peace and Justice Society Program, who explained that the theme was chosen to shed light on the past and current injustices in America.

“[The theme is] the idea being that if you don’t know what the problem is, if you can’t look at the problem right in the eyes and understand it, you really aren’t going to come up with any good solutions,” Jayawickreme said. 

This year’s Peace Week consisted of eight events of various different types. Events included two lectures, “Making Sense of Historical Monuments,” and “American Indian Historical Trauma: A Conceptual Overview,” from visiting professors. Additionally, there was a Brown Bag Discussion, “What Does it Mean to Decolonize Psychological Research,” a Slice of Social Justice event, “What History Can Teach Us About the Struggle for Racial Justice,” a student-led conversation on advancing racial justice, an art and civic practice event and lastly, the dedication of the Peace Pole. 

“The goal of Peace Week is to grab the attention of the college community by… saturating the college calendar with a series of events,” Jayawickreme said. “So in a sense, you know if you can’t make one event you can make another event.” 

He saw this as a fitting response to the recent injustices we’ve seen across the country. Jayawickreme said he and the rest of the Peace and Justice Advisory Committee viewed it as an opportunity to shed light on these injustices and to also cement the school’s stance on certain objective historical facts. 

“My hope is that one of the many events they’ve attended kind of plants a seed in their mind where they become more curious about an issue and they learn more about a particular injustice,” Jayawickreme said. “None of these events are going to answer every single person’s questions about any of these injustices. None of these events is going to give you a full understanding about any of these topics, but these topics are complex, they’re long-lasting.”

Jayawickreme hopes that these events will further students’ interest in social justice and equity. He encourages them to join the Peace and Justice major or minor as a way to continue learning about these kinds of topics.

Naouras Mousa Almatar, Campus Ministry and Social Action Suite graduate assistant, worked with Jayawickreme to put Peace Week together. In an email to The Quadrangle, Almatar explained the importance of Peace Week and the effectiveness of the events and speakers. 

“Peace Week is an important reminder to our community of the efforts that we take to fight for racial, social, and gender justice,” Almatar wrote. “Every event teaches us more and shows us what we can do differently to make things right. The events also bring outside speakers that are not part of our community, and in my opinion, it’s always good to have a new, different, and refreshing opinion about different topics.” 

Peace and Justice Week 2021 offered a series of social justice-themed events to students remote and virtual, ending with the dedication of the Peace Poll.

Rachel Roca, a senior and co-president of Just Peace, was a moderator for the event “A Student-Led Conversation on Advancing Racial Justice at Manhattan College” and gave a speech at the Dedication of the Peace Pole. 

At “A Student-Led Conversation on Advancing Racial Justice at Manhattan College” students were able to discuss their experiences on campus regarding racial justice. 

“I’m hoping that ‘A Student-Led Conversation on Advancing Racial Justice at Manhattan College’ can lead to actionable steps to make MC a more just and inclusive environment,” Roca wrote in an email. “This is a great way to get in touch with the community, but it is not enough to hear their thoughts, experiences, and concerns. Work needs to be done to implement solutions that address the issues raised.” 

Similar to Jayawickreme and Almatar, Roca believes Peace Week is important to have on campus to bring awareness and inspire students to take action. 

“It really forces MC to critically see the issues our society faces,” Roca wrote. “The goal is to both educate during these events, but also encourage people to want to become active in the community. Peace Week fits so well into our Lasallian Values, and it is important to realize these aren’t values we should follow just when it is convenient for us.”

Despite the pandemic, Peace and Justice Week still ran properly, even in a remote format. Without having to pay for travel and stay for the guest, the Peace and Justice Advisory Committee was able to get a more diverse range of speakers. However, there is the loss of peer-to-peer interactions and limitations to the kind of dialogue being shared. 

“I do think something is lost when you don’t meet people in person though. You can’t talk to the speaker in person, people going to the event can’t just have a conversation with one another after they are leaving the event and after the event people just click out of the meeting and that’s it,” Jayawickreme said. 

Despite this, Almatar believes Peace Week served as a way for students to learn and be reminded of the issues grappling with many members of society. 

“The students get to learn about new racial and social justice and also learn about what efforts they can take for justice and peace that they haven’t explored in the past,” he wrote. “It also reminds our community of our commitment to our mission, which is, in simple terms, making the world a better place for those who need help.”