'Hope for the world' unites a generation of diversity
Students of all backgrounds brought together to become builders of peace
Photos by Loras College Peace Institute
“Loras College Peace Institute provided me with a chance to break out of the bubble I’ve grown up in. While it reminded me that the world is far from perfect, it gave me the knowledge of what needs to change as well as skills to help change it ... hope for the world, knowing that this generation is ready to be the change. It’s the sort of experience that made me proud to be a human, even in the face of some of the world’s most terrible realities.”
This is a reflection by Becky Vires, a senior high school student from Wheaton, Illinois, who attended the Peace Institute — a four-day camp at Loras College, a Catholic, liberal arts school in Dubuque, Iowa — this July. A Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration ministry grant provided scholarships that allowed several high school students who might not otherwise have had the chance to attend the Peace Institute to do so. They were given “the opportunity to gain unique skills and experiences which they can use to promote peace in their personal and professional lives,” says Peace Institute Director Brenna Cussen Anglada. Brenna shares more about the camp and the kids and perhaps why one participant left with the conviction that together, they can change the world.
Tell us about Loras College Peace Institute: Who attends? What do participants experience?
The Peace Institute empowers high school-aged youth from a diverse set of racial and socioeconomic backgrounds with the skills and awareness to build peace with themselves, their communities, creation, and the world. The camp equipped 15 youth with leadership skills to go into their schools, families, and communities and promote peace. They learned mindfulness practices, nonviolent communication skills, anti-racism tools, and food and eco justice practices — all abilities necessary to respond to violence and injustice proactively and peacefully.
Each year, the youth in attendance spend four days and three nights at Loras College visiting diverse organizations in the community, where they engage with and learn from members of Jewish, Muslim, Meskwaki and Christian faith communities. This year, the students came from around Des Moines and Ames, Iowa, in and around Chicago, Illinois, and many places in between. They represented multiple races and socio-economic backgrounds.
What do the Loras scholarships mean to the recipients? Their futures?
Our scholarship recipients, along with other participants, were given the opportunity to attend an experience of a lifetime. The camp facilitates a courageous space in which youth from both privileged and underprivileged backgrounds were able to listen deeply to one another, form lasting bonds together, and learn about the day-to-day, concrete realities of one another’s lives and ways to support each other — all in the context of a safe learning environment. Some students had not had much (if any) experience on a college campus and some did not have any family members who had attended college. This learning environment was the perfect opportunity to enable them to see themselves thriving in a college setting.
Each student had an important, though unique, experience. For example, one young man was particularly struck by Multicultural Family Center Director Jackie Hunter, an African American woman who spoke on “Peace with Nature.” She stressed her love of the outdoors and her strong belief in getting her family outside despite the fact that at most campgrounds, “the other people don’t look like us.” He had internalized the stereotype that “Black people don’t go outside,” or spend time in nature. She helped him to understand his own love of nature, and that he doesn’t need to feel as if this love in anyway betrays his identity as a young black man.
The students made what appeared to be deep and lasting bonds with one another; several shared at the closing ceremony — with many tears — that they had never been so vulnerable with their peers before. The majority expressed that, though they are not happy with the direction this country is going, they had gained confidence through their experience that their generation could change things.
Proclaimed one student, “We got this.”
Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration Julia Walsh sponsors the ministry grant that helps students experience the Peace Institute. Sister Julia says, “Our world is deeply and beautifully interconnected. Our increasingly globalized society enables our youth to participate in and celebrate our common life in new and exciting ways. However, it has also brought the horrific realities of violence and injustice in our society — from skyrocketing anxiety to climate change to school shootings — home to their doorsteps in an increasingly urgent way. Loras College Peace Institute equips high school students with the skills and perspectives needed in order to respond to violence and injustice proactively and peacefully.”