Alumna will speak on peacebuilding, women’s empowerment


Palwasha Kakar to speak on September 22 at Krehbiel Auditorium

Palwasha Kakar, who has dedicated her life to building peace and resolving conflict, will speak on campus Sunday, Sept. 22, at 7 p.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium.

Her presentation wraps up a week of events at Bethel and in the community as part of the annual national Campaign Nonviolence, and is free and open to the public.

Kakar is currently senior program officer for religion and inclusive societies at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), based in Washington, D.C.

Her topic at Bethel is “Women’s Role in Ending Violence and Building Peace: Reflections from Afghanistan and USIP,” which reflects areas in which she has given much of her time and energy over the last 15 years.

Kakar is the daughter of an Afghan father and American mother, who were medical students in Seattle when she was born. She chose to come to Bethel College in 1995 because it was the alma mater of her maternal grandmother, the late Ruth Graber of Moundridge.

Kakar graduated from Bethel in 1999 with a B.A. in global studies and Bible and religion. She also took advantage of the opportunity to gain practical skills in conflict mediation through the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (KIPCOR).

Kakar’s first job after graduation was directing the Newton Area Peace Center, now called Peace Connections.

She did an intensive Arabic-language study program at Zarka (Jordan) Private University before pursuing graduate studies at Harvard Divinity School, where she completed a master’s degree in theological studies, with a focus on gender, religion and politics, in 2004.

She then moved to Afghanistan, where she worked with an independent research organization, the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, documenting women’s participation in local politics and civil society, and then as program manager for the Gender Studies Institute at Kabul University.

Kakar has worked with the World Bank, the United Nations and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), consulting as well as managing small grants projects aimed at empowering women in Afghanistan.

She spent four years with the Asia Foundation, where she was the Afghanistan director for Women’s Empowerment and Development. In 2014, she moved to the USIP.

She was also named Bethel’s Young Alumnus Award winner in 2014.

Kakar is an experienced teacher, speaker and researcher in religion, gender, security and local governance. She has written on women’s participation in local governance, Pashtunwali-Afghan customary law, Afghan women’s identity and social spaces in Afghanistan, with her research taking her to Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Syria, as well as Afghanistan.

Kakar and her husband, Noorullah K. Kakar, live with their children in northern Virginia.

Kakar will spend several days in the Newton area, meeting with some Bethel classes and speaking in the weekly chapel service, Sept. 25 at 11 a.m. in the Administration Building chapel, which is also open to the public.

Bethel College, a four-year liberal arts college founded in 1887, is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Known for academic excellence, Bethel is the highest-listed Kansas private college listed in Washington Monthly’s “Top Bachelor’s Colleges” for 2019-20 and according to Zippia.com, is the highest ranked Kansas small college with the highest earning graduates. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu

KIPCOR, Bethel and community partners plan Nonviolence Week


“Swords” (weapons) into “plowshares” (gardening tools)…

The arts, service projects, and “beating swords into plowshares” (almost literally) will come together on campus and in the wider community in special events Sept. 16-22.

The Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (KIPCOR), Bethel’s peacebuilding institute, is leading a group of sponsors for a series of events marking the nationwide Campaign Nonviolence National Week of Action.

Joining KIPCOR in planning and organizing are Peace Connections of Newton, Offender Victim Ministries (OVM) of Newton, the Newton Ministerial Alliance and Bethel’s Office of Student Life.

The planning committee chose as its theme “Widening the Lens of Nonviolence.” One way of doing that is exploring how poverty, homelessness and violence (or nonviolence) are connected.

The kickoff event was a screening of the documentary Lost Angels: Skid Row is My Home, as the year’s first offering in KIPCOR’s annual Film Series.

“Shining a light on poverty is a way of violence prevention,” and helped lead to the “Widening the Lens” theme, said Sheryl Wilson, KIPCOR director.

The “full week” starts Sept. 16, when Peace Connections staff and volunteers will facilitate a poverty simulation beginning at 6:30 in Memorial Hall on the Bethel campus.

Bethel students who participate will receive convocation credit, but anyone interested is invited to take part in this experience.

Sept. 18 is Bethel’s annual Service Day, when daytime classes are cancelled and all students are required, and faculty and staff encouraged, to find a service project to join on campus or in the community.

This year, Mike Martin of Colorado Springs-based RAWtools will be at Bethel Sept. 18-19, as the centerpiece of activities that help connect service and nonviolence.

Martin is a trained blacksmith and a Mennonite, part of a “historic peace church.” He began RAWtools in 2013, three months after the massacre of young schoolchildren and teachers at Sandy Hook by a young man with an assault rifle.

Martin and other blacksmiths who are part of RAWtools use their skills to turn rifles into garden tools. The guns are donated, and the materials can produce from two to four tools.

The inspiration comes from the Hebrew Bible concept of “beating swords into plowshares.”

Starting at 2 p.m. on the Green in the middle of Bethel’s campus, Martin will have his anvil operating to dismantle a rifle. Anyone is invited to observe and ask questions, with several students taking part in the “gun-to-garden-tool” work.

The action will be live-streamed on Facebook to a screen in Memorial Hall, where there will also be a collaborative art project taking place.

There are always pieces of the guns that can’t be used to make tools – instead, they become part of sculptures to be donated to survivors of gun violence.

There will be another service opportunity during this time. OVM will have materials and suggestions available for writing letters to inmates at Hutchinson Correctional Facility, emergency and disaster first responders and trauma center workers.

Peter Goerzen, campus pastor, organizes Service Day and supervises the student chaplains, who have been helping to plan the art activity and student story-telling associated with Martin’s demonstration.

“The student chaplains are very excited to help plan this,” Goerzen said. “I’ve also talked to an art student who is very interested in helping in any way he can.”

Martin will be on the Bethel campus Sept. 19 as well, and available to visit classes and talk more about RAWtools and his experiences over the past six-and-a-half years.

Starting at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 19, Martin will have his anvil going at First Church of God at 620 Fairview Ave. in Newton.

Peace Connections and the Newton Ministerial Alliance are sponsoring a community cookout, along with Martin’s demonstration and the film Inside Peace. The OVM letter-writing campaign will continue during this event as well.

The documentary follows four inmates doing hard time in a Texas prison who take a “Peace Class” that changes their view of themselves and the world, and then try to take that with them in the hard transition back to life outside.

There will be a special presentation to the Harvey County Master Gardeners of a tool created from a rifle, right before the screening of Inside Peace, at 6:30 p.m.

“All of this is to say: ‘We’re transforming something that was harmful or traumatic into something positive,’” said Dan Wassink, KIPCOR senior mediator.

The concluding event is Sept. 22 at 7 p.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium in Luyken Fine Arts Center at Bethel.

Palwasha Kakar, a Bethel graduate, will talk about her work with Afghan women seeking to end violence and build peace in their country.

Kakar is a senior program officer for religion and inclusive societies at the U.S. Institute of Peace, headquartered in Washington, D.C.

Bethel College, a four-year liberal arts college founded in 1887, is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Known for academic excellence, Bethel is the highest-listed Kansas private college listed in Washington Monthly’s “Top Bachelor’s Colleges” for 2019-20 and according to Zippia.com, is the highest ranked Kansas small college with the highest earning graduates. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu

Film connects homeless advocacy to nonviolent social action


The opening film for this school year’s KIPCOR Film Series also opens a series of special events looking at nonviolence and action.

Lost Angels: Skid Row Is My Home screens Sept. 8 at 3 p.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium in Luyken Fine Arts Center.

It is free and open to the public, with a freewill offering taken to support the series and the work of the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (KIPCOR).

In Lost Angels, actor Catherine Keener narrates the story of eight individuals who have found a way to make a life for themselves with the Los Angeles homeless community.

The film looks at how gentrification, increasing criminalization of homeless people and draconian changes to the U.S. mental health-care system have intensified individuals’ “descent into society’s basement.”

But in addition, Lost Angels also shows how an array of advocates (especially LAMP, featured in the 2009 film The Soloist, starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr.) have enabled Skid Row residents to find ways to organize and fight back.

Proactive approaches to homelessness – most specifically, providing housing – are helping people recover from mental illness and substance abuse, and find stability.

Thomas Napper directed the 77-minute documentary, which was released in 2010. He was second-unit director for The Soloist, which is how he first met some of the individuals whose stories are told in Lost Angels.

A talkback session follows the Bethel screening of Lost Angels, with James Wilson, executive director of New Hope Homeless Shelter in Newton, and a member of the Wichita Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team.

The film – the first of four to be shown throughout the school year – also opens the local activities planned in connection with an annual national recognition of nonviolent action.

“[Lost Angels] is an older film, but we are using it as a kickoff event for our collaboration with Peace Connections in Newton to mark national Campaign Nonviolence Week of Action,” said Dan Wassink, senior mediator and facilitator at KIPCOR, who coordinates the annual film series.

Lost Angels makes the connection between homelessness and violence, he said. Other activities planned between Sept. 8 and Sept. 22 will connect poverty and violence, as well as give alternatives to the prevalent gun violence in the United States.

Events conclude with the visit of Bethel graduate Palwasha Kakar to campus Sept. 22-26, with a public lecture Sept. 22 at 7 p.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium.

See the KIPCOR website at kipcor.org for a complete list of events with times and locations. All are free and open to the public.

The KIPCOR Film Series is funded in part through the KIPCOR Peace Lecture Endowment. Future films in the 2019-20 series are: Dawnland, Nov. 17; The Great White Hoax, Feb. 9; and TBA, April 19.

Bethel College, a four-year liberal arts college founded in 1887, is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Known for academic excellence, Bethel is the highest-listed Kansas private college listed in Washington Monthly’s “Top Bachelor’s Colleges” for 2019-20 and according to Zippia.com, is the highest ranked Kansas small college with the highest earning graduates. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu

Faculty learn how to build first-year community through circles


Sheryl Wilson and Sharon Kniss lead a discussion of Circles

As Bethel gears up to welcome new students, one group of faculty spent a recent morning in circles.

They weren’t running in circles – they were sitting in them, learning the basics of the “circle process,” with the ultimate goal of transforming conversations on the Bethel campus.

All Bethel freshmen are divided into First-Year Seminar (FYS) groups, each led by a Liberal Education Adviser (LEA). The 2019-20 LEAs gathered at the office of the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (KIPCOR) to hear about circles (sometimes called talking circles) from KIPCOR staff and spend time practicing the process.

“Circles are often used in the process of restorative justice,” said Sharon Kniss, KIPCOR director of education and training. “They have been part of indigenous cultures for millennia.”

She noted that there are various ways to do the circle process, and the one KIPCOR uses and teaches “most closely resembles that of the Plains people – the first people to live where we now do.”

Circles help create a safe space that gives every discussion participant an equal chance to speak and also encourages careful listening.

Each circle has a facilitator or “circle keeper” – in this case, the LEAs – who helps create a tone of openness and guides the group in setting any ground rules they want for their discussion.

KIPCOR’s kind of circle employs a “talking piece” that gets handed from one person to the next. Only the person holding the talking piece is allowed to speak, and they can also choose to pass.

John McCabe-Juhnke, professor of communication arts and one of this school year’s LEAs, suggested that the LEAs be introduced to the circle process as a way to foster more constructive discussion, especially on hard topics.

“We had been talking about ways to push anti-racism work forward on campus,” McCabe-Juhnke said. “For the second year in a row, our common text in FYS is The Hate U Give [a young-adult novel centering on a police shooting of an unarmed black youth].

“The circle process is designed to help groups talk about difficult issues. But I think it’s helpful in other ways, in terms of developing a sense of class community.”

“In almost every class, there’s someone who tends to dominate conversation,” added LEA Barbara Thiesen, co-director of libraries. “I think this might be useful for [creating] more of a shared discussion, along with the option to pass.

“I also noticed that when you have the talking piece, you have the floor, and when you don’t, your responsibility is to listen. It’s an invitation to be present in the moment.”

“Circle process is highly adaptable, even though it’s rooted in indigenous culture and practice,” Kniss said. “It’s a good tool for conversations about race that are typically tense, uncomfortable and emotional.”

The circle process can “help keep these conversations going, as well as build community on campus,” she said.

Her co-trainer, Sheryl Wilson, KIPCOR executive director, said, “I’ve been moved and challenged by the stories of the struggles our students face. I think [circles] get at the root of much of that. They’re a way to help build relationships and create positive space in that fragile first year.

“Even after so many times hearing circles described, I get a feeling of reverence,” she continued. “When done right, it’s transformative. It can be that for us and for our students. We have the power to do amazing things, and transform our culture.”

Bethel College, a four-year liberal arts college founded in 1887, is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Known for academic excellence, Bethel is the only Kansas private college listed in Washington Monthly National Universities-Liberal Arts section for 2018-19 and U.S. News & World Report’s Best National Liberal Arts Colleges 2018. According to Zippia.com, Bethel is the highest ranked Kansas small college with the highest earning graduates. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu

KIPCOR’s Director Sheryl Wilson Speaks Out on the Need for Peace


If someone told me 30 years ago that mass shootings would become a norm in society, I would not have believed it. In fact, a Washington Post article highlights the “trend” of mass shootings over time since 2015:https://www.washingtonpost.com/…/more-deadlier-mass-shoot…/… . It saddens me that current mass shootings have become a topic to be studied.

Up until last weekend, the average length in time between mass shootings had been reported at 47 days, which seems incredibly too often. I now think differently about that reporting of frequency as the last two mass shootings occurred just 13 hours apart. Ironically, at KIPCOR, we are in the midst of planning activities with community partners for Nonviolence Week that will take place in the fall.

A few years ago, I was so overwhelmed following the shooting deaths of Philando Castille, Alton Sterling, and Dallas Police officers, that I wrote an article sharing my grief. I wanted to give people some thoughts on what could be done in a situation like this when it feels like our efforts are futile. I hope that these ideas will inspire us to think of ways we can respond in times like these:

Rather than sitting on my hands, I have been asking myself, “What can I do?” In my years of working with those who have been affected by crime and working with communities in conflict, I have learned a few things that I hope will be of some help to those of you who are struggling to figure out what to do next.

𝐖𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐰𝐞 𝐜𝐚𝐧 𝐝𝐨 𝐢𝐧 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐰𝐚𝐤𝐞 𝐨𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐬𝐞 𝐭𝐫𝐚𝐠𝐞𝐝𝐢𝐞𝐬
• First, think about the lives that were lost and their loved ones. Families are suffering because a mother, father, wife, husband, sibling, family member, dear friend, or co-worker is never coming back. We all have the ability to politicize anything, 𝐛𝐮𝐭 𝐛𝐞𝐟𝐨𝐫𝐞 𝐰𝐞 𝐝𝐨 𝐭𝐡𝐚𝐭, 𝐚𝐜𝐤𝐧𝐨𝐰𝐥𝐞𝐝𝐠𝐞 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐥𝐨𝐬𝐬. However you choose to make meaning of this, do it with great care! 
• If you are able to 𝐩𝐫𝐨𝐯𝐢𝐝𝐞 𝐩𝐞𝐨𝐩𝐥𝐞 𝐬𝐩𝐚𝐜𝐞𝐬 𝐭𝐨 𝐡𝐚𝐯𝐞 𝐝𝐢𝐚𝐥𝐨𝐠𝐮𝐞 𝐭𝐨 𝐩𝐫𝐨𝐜𝐞𝐬𝐬 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐬𝐞 𝐞𝐯𝐞𝐧𝐭𝐬, I feel that this may be one of the most important things you can do. Even if you can’t have a dinner party or something formal, the ways in which we can offer a listening ear are endless. These are the times we should be “checking-in” on our friends and neighbors. I would rather have people vent in my living room as opposed to seeing things “come out sideways” by having them vent in the street. Let’s offer spaces for people to diffuse their anger, frustration and sadness.

Regardless of your ethnicity or political leanings, lives were lost and people are hurting around the world concerning these horrific events. I encourage you to think about how we can repair the harm. I sincerely mean this — PEACE!

If you want to know more about National Nonviolence Week in the Bethel College Community, please visit www.KIPCOR.org for more information in the coming weeks. For more information on events nationwide, visit https://paceebene.org/cnv-actions-list
–Sheryl R. Wilson, KIPCOR Director

Balzer gives Bethel’s winning speech for second straight year


KIPCOR Director Sheryl Wilson (left), congratulates Sarah Balzer (center) and Randall Schmidt (right) after Bethel’s 2019 C Henry Smith Awards announcement

Senior Sarah Balzer has some ideas to share about voting, and they’re not about ballot boxes or campaign promises.

For the second year in a row, Balzer was the first-place winner in Bethel’s C. Henry Smith Peace Oration contest, which took place at the end of April, with the winners announced at semester’s end.

Last year, Balzer’s winning speech “Environmental Inequalities in the Age of Plastics” also won the bi-national contest.

Balzer is a senior from Inman, majoring in social work with minors in Spanish and peace, justice and conflict studies.

“A Voting Guide for Peacemakers Under Capitalism” has a simple message: In North America, in a capitalist economy, we vote for or against peace every day in how we spend our money.

Balzer’s examples are the treatment of workers as dispensable and even less than human by a company that provides shipping services to giant corporations like Disney; the “fast fashion” industry (think H&M or Gap) that depends on cheap labor in countries like Bangladesh, where workers’ health and safety get short shrift; and the same kind of corner cutting with health and safety that takes place in American companies such as Tyson Foods.

Don’t support Disney when their subcontractor’s policies threaten human rights, Balzer says. Buy your clothes from a local or regional producer or a thrift store, and your food locally wherever possible.

Balzer also calls for more direct action in support of peace, looking at how American Mennonites in the 20th century began moving from being “the quiet in the land” to raising their voices in state capitals and Washington, D.C.

When consumers use their buying power for leverage, they can force changes that benefit workers, she says.

“We must create a sense of shared responsibility for … injustices [like the examples given here],” Balzer concludes.

“We can all do our small part, buying our food locally, shopping at thrift stores, researching the companies we buy from, avoiding buying anything we don’t absolutely need and speaking out against companies with unfair labor standards and unethical practices. When we take these small steps, we are using our vote to promote peace.”

The second-place winner in the Bethel contest was Randall Schmidt, graduating senior from Lawrence, with “Medical Peacemaking: Sowing the Seeds of Peace.”

Schmidt, whose immediate plans are taking him to Kenya with Mennonite Central Committee’s SALT program and whose long-term goals include medical school and neonatology, talked about how providing health care to people affected by violence – whether through war, cycles of poverty or addiction, or systemic racism or sexism – is also a way of making peace.

“All of us need to learn about the violent structures that disadvantage people and bring them poor health, then work to address [them],” Schmidt said.

“Supporting the medical peacemaking of organizations like MCC, or promoting institutions that care for the health of the marginalized in your community, is a good place to start, as each is important in the development of peace.”

The C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest is open to all students at Mennonite and Brethren in Christ colleges in Canada and the United States. To be considered for the contest, speeches must apply a peace theme to a contemporary concern.

Directors of the C. Henry Smith Trust established the contest in 1974 in honor of the late Mennonite historian and professor at Goshen (Indiana) College and Bluffton (Ohio) College, now Bluffton University.

Participating colleges host individual campus contests, usually during the spring semester of the academic year, and judges selected by Mennonite Central Committee choose the top three speeches from the winners of each campus contest.

Bethel College is the only Kansas private college listed in Washington Monthly National Universities-Liberal Arts section for 2018-19. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu

Bethel College does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, creed, age, gender, sexual orientation, parental or marital status, gender identity, gender expression, medical or genetic information, ethnic or national origins, citizenship status, veteran or military status or disability. E-mail questions to TitleIXCoordinator@bethelks.edu

KIPCOR short course series serves both beginners and practitioners


KIPCOR Core Skills

As the school year gets underway, Bethel College’s peacebuilding institute, KIPCOR, is also starting up this year’s schedule of short courses.

KIPCOR, the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, is once again offering a variety of educational opportunities, with the aim of both serving those with training in conflict mediation and those who simply want to learn better ways to handle conflict, have civil conversations and build community.

Sharon Kniss, KIPCOR director of education and training, describes the courses as “an accessible and affordable continuing education series” – or, said another way, “KIPCORe Skills,” for “KIPCOR core skills.”

“We want to support people who are practicing mediators, who might have taken our training,” says Kniss, “as well as offer training that many people are asking for, in basic skills that can apply to daily life.

“And we want the schedule and the fees to make them accessible to anyone interested. If financial barriers remain, reduced-fee requests will be considered for those on limited and fixed incomes.”

Most courses are offered on a single day, with the afternoon session geared to skilled mediators with a focus on enhancing their practice, and the evening session intended for anyone interested, regardless of previous experience.

The afternoon sessions are three hours, from 1:30-4:30, at a cost of $35 per session and the evening sessions are two hours, 6:30-8:30, for $25. All sessions include a time of networking and refreshments starting a half hour before the course begins.

The first offering is Sept. 13, Conflict 101, a basic course that provides tools for dealing with “the everyday realities of conflict, from families to workplaces to the larger society.”

Oct. 11 is Circle Process for Mediators (how to lead circles in mediation practice), and Communication Skills for Tense Times (learning skills for having “courageous conversations that build relationships rather than divide”).

Nov. 8’s afternoon session will be on workplace mediation and organizational conflict, while the evening session is a primer on facilitation skills, Facilitating for Productive Public Conversation.

The final short course of the fall semester will be an evening offering, Dec. 6, Unpacking Diversity Training – looking at next steps and further learning after completion of a diversity training session.

The next day, Dec. 7, KIPCOR offers its annual CME/CEU short courses for mediation practitioners, 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium in Luyken Fine Arts Center.

“KIPCORe Skills” resumes in the new year on Jan. 17, with the evening session Teams That Work (basic teambuilding practices).

Feb. 7 will be Sticky Situations in Domestic Mediation in the afternoon, with Building a Trauma-Informed Culture at Work and Beyond in the evening.

The final day in the 2018-19 course series is March 7, with a repeat of Circle Process for Mediators and, in the evening, Common Sense Justice (Restorative Justice 101).

All courses will be taught in the KIPCOR offices at 2515 College Ave. in North Newton, except the CME/CEU shorts.

Go to kipcor.org, where you can learn more about the courses, download flyers, and register online.

Most sessions will be co-led by a KIPCOR staff person and a regional expert in the particular topic being addressed.

Visiting experts are Joyce McEwan Crane and Gregory Cole, both of Wichita, Donna Schenck-Hamlin, Manhattan, and Art Thompson, Topeka.

McEwan Crane is the strategic development coordinator for the Center for Community Support and Outreach at Wichita State University, where she coordinates the work of “trauma-informed systems of care.”

Schenck-Hamlin co-founded the Institute for Civic Discourse and Dialogue at Kansas State University, and is a program/project associate for both the ICDD and the Center for Engagement and Community Development at K-State.

Thompson, a professional mediator, was formerly the dispute resolution director for the Kansas Supreme Court.

Cole is a successful Wichita businessman who has also taught leadership at the college level.

KIPCOR was founded in 1985 and is one of the oldest regional peace institutes in the United States. KIPCOR offers an array of resources in conflict resolution and peacebuilding, as well as an extensive networking system for consulting and intervention. Learn more at kipcor.org.

Bethel College is the only Kansas private college listed in Washington Monthly National Universities-Liberal Arts section for 2018-19. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.

Bethel College does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, creed, age, gender, sexual orientation, parental or marital status, gender identity, gender expression, medical or genetic information, ethnic or national origins, citizenship status, veteran or military status or disability. E-mail questions to TitleIXCoordinator@bethelks.edu.

For second straight year, Bethel speaker is first in binational contest


Sarah Balzer

The judges for an annual peace oratorical contest, open to colleges in the United States and Canada, chose junior Sarah Balzer’s speech as this year’s overall winner.

It would be possible to sum up her thesis as “Make peace through potlucks.”

Balzer, Inman, wrote and gave the speech as part of the C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest, taking first place in the Bethel contest last April, which then made her eligible to represent Bethel in the wider competition.

She began with a quote from “eco-poet” Craig Santos Perez, who called plastic “the perfect creation because it never dies.”

“We have become so accustomed to the convenience [of] plastic,” Balzer said, “that we don’t often think about where our trash goes after we toss it.

“When we dig deeper, we see the immense environmental impact plastics can have, and how our overuse of plastics can be considered a form of violence.”

Balzer traced the journey of a plastic water bottle thrown into the trash.

Most likely it goes into a landfill, she said, where over time chemicals that are harmless when bonded together begin to break down and leach, as toxins, into soil and groundwater.

People who live closest to landfills come from populations that are disproportionately low-income and/or of color, she noted.

A bottle that doesn’t go into a landfill most likely ends up in the ocean, contributing to the huge garbage mass, twice the size of Texas, accumulating in the Pacific.

The plastic garbage interferes with fishing and the livelihoods of people with little else to fall back on, Balzer pointed out. Plastic waste kills vast numbers of marine animals outright or ends up as toxins in their bodies, which again disproportionately affects the human populations who rely on these animals for food.

“By following the journey of the plastic water bottle we’ve tossed in the trash, we can see how, over time, the toxic substances used in plastic production can wind up on someone else’s plate, negatively impacting their overall well-being,” Balzer said.

“Crowning plastics as ‘the perfect substance’ and creating a world in which throw-away culture is the norm [means] we have unintentionally contributed to oppression of the poor, who are less able to combat the effects of pollution and environmental degradation.”

Balzer wound up her speech by saying that, in addition to being called to prevent direct physical violence and injustice, Christians are challenged to care for creation.

“When Jesus said, ‘Love your neighbor,’ he did not simply mean ‘Do not kill your neighbor.’ Our Christian peace perspective calls us not only to abstain from fighting, but also to go beyond current societal norms, examining our own lives to find ways to prevent injustice and speak up for the oppressed. Combating environmental degradation is one way to do so.

“We cannot begin to solve the problem unless we quit contributing to it in the first place.”

While it’s necessary to “educate ourselves and others about the harmful effects of plastics” and advocate for policy changes such as plastic grocery bag bans, Balzer said, perhaps most important is to “change a few of our everyday habits, taking our reusable bags to the grocery store, refusing straws at restaurants or taking the time to do the dishes at family gatherings [and other potlucks] instead of using plastic utensils.

“Minimizing our contributions to plastic waste is one of the multitude of ways a few small changes in our everyday lives can help reduce inequality and injustice and promote shalom around the world.”

As the first-place winner of the binational C. Henry Smith contest, Balzer received a cash prize of $500, plus a $300 scholarship to a peace-related conference or seminar of her choice.

Balzer said she was “quite surprised” by her first-place finish in the national contest, in particular because entering at Bethel was her first experience with a speech competition.

“I am happy to have been able to draw attention to one of the ways that protecting our environment can promote peace,” she said.

Balzer is majoring in social work with minors in peace, justice and conflict studies, and Spanish. Her home congregation is Buhler Mennonite Church.

Caleb Schrock-Hurst, a 2018 graduate of Eastern Mennonite University from Harrisonburg, Virginia, was the second-place winner for “Is this a Bonhoeffer Moment?: Asking the Right Questions in Trump’s America,” while Goshen (Indiana) College student Achieng Agutu, from Kisumu, Kenya, came in third with a speech entitled “The Introduction: A Story of Inner Peace.”

Schrock-Hurst received $225 in cash and a $200 scholarship, and Agutu $150 and a $200 scholarship.

The C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest is open to all students at Mennonite and Brethren in Christ colleges in Canada and the United States. To be considered for the contest, speeches must apply a peace theme to a contemporary concern.

Directors of the C. Henry Smith Trust established the contest in 1974 in honor of the late Mennonite historian and professor at Goshen College and Bluffton (Ohio) College, now Bluffton University.

Participating colleges host individual campus contests, usually during the spring semester of the academic year, and judges selected by MCC choose the top three speeches from the winners of each campus contest.

This year’s MCC judges were Elizabeth Miller, Bogotá, Colombia, MCC Colombia worker; Trent Voth, a member of the ministry team at Toronto (Ontario) United Mennonite Church; and Jill Schellenberg, a professor of criminology and restorative justice at Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kan.

Bethel College is the only Kansas private college listed in Washington Monthly National Universities-Liberal Arts section for 2018-19. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu

Bethel College does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, creed, age, gender, sexual orientation, parental or marital status, gender identity, gender expression, medical or genetic information, ethnic or national origins, citizenship status, veteran or military status or disability. E-mail questions to TitleIXCoordinator@bethelks.edu

You can watch Ms. Balzer’s presentation here:

Making peace about creation care, lifestyle changes, speech winner says


Bethel’s C. Henry Smith Peace Oration contest winner, Sarah Balzer, has a simple suggestion: Make peace through potlucks.

Balzer, a junior from Inman, Kansas, took first place in the annual event with “Environmental Inequalities in the Age of Plastics.”

Balzer began her speech with a quote from “eco-poet” Craig Santos Perez, who called plastic “the perfect creation because it never dies.”

“We have become so accustomed to the convenience plastic provides,” Balzer said, “that we don’t often think about where our trash goes after we toss it in the Dumpster.

“However, when we dig deeper, we see the immense environmental impact plastics can have, and how our overuse of plastics can be considered a form of violence.”

Balzer traced the journey of a plastic water bottle thrown into the trash.

Most likely it goes into a landfill, she said, where over time the chemicals that are harmless when bonded together begin to break down and leach, as toxins, into the soil and groundwater.

People who live closest to landfills come from populations that are disproportionately low-income and/or people of color, she noted.

If the bottle doesn’t go into a landfill, then it’s probably in the ocean, contributing to the huge garbage mass, twice the size of Texas, accumulating in the Pacific.

The plastic garbage interferes with fishing and the livelihoods of people with little else to fall back on, Balzer pointed out. They are responsible for killing vast numbers of marine animals, or ending up as toxins in their bodies, which again disproportionately affect the human populations who rely on these animals for food.

“By following the journey of the plastic water bottle we’ve tossed in the trash, we can see how, over time, the toxic substances used in plastic production can wind up on someone else’s plate, negatively impacting their overall well-being,” Balzer said.

“By crowning plastics as ‘perfect substance’ and creating a world in which throw-away culture is the norm, we have unintentionally contributed to the oppression of the poor, who are less able to combat the effects of pollution and environmental degradation.”

Balzer wound up her speech by saying that, in addition to being called to prevent direct physical violence and injustice, Christians are challenged to care for creation.

“When Jesus said, ‘Love your neighbor,’ he did not simply mean ‘Do not kill your neighbor.’ Our Christian peace perspective calls us to not only to abstain from fighting, but to also to go beyond current societal norms, examining our own lives to find ways to prevent injustice and speak up for the oppressed- and combating environmental degradation is one way to do so.

“We cannot begin to solve the problem unless we quit contributing to it in the first place.”

While it’s necessary to “educate ourselves and others about the harmful effects of plastics” and advocate for policy changes such as plastic grocery bag bans, Balzer said, perhaps most important is to “change a few of our everyday habits, taking our reusable bags to the grocery store, refusing straws at restaurants or taking the time to do the dishes at family gatherings [and other potlucks] instead of using plastic utensils.

“Minimizing our contributions to plastic waste is one of the multitude of ways a few small changes in our everyday lives can help reduce inequality and injustice and promote shalom around the world.”

Only one other prize was awarded, second place to Victoria Riddick, freshman from Aztec, New Mexico, for a speech entitled “Finding Forgiveness in a Man I Never Knew,” about her recovery from the trauma of the day her best friend was killed in a school shooting.

At Bethel College, the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (KIPCOR) sponsors the annual C. Henry Smith Peace Oration Contest.

Both students received cash awards. Balzer sent her manuscript and a DVD recording of her speech to Mennonite Central Committee headquarters in Akron, Pennsylvania, to be judged against the winners from the other Mennonite and Brethren in Christ colleges and universities in the United States and Canada.

Bethel College ranks at No. 1 in College Consensus’ ranking of Kansas colleges and universities, and is the only Kansas private college listed in the Forbes.com analysis of top colleges and universities, the Washington Monthly National Universities-Liberal Arts section and the National Liberal Arts College category of U.S. News & World Report, all for 2017-18. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.

Bethel College does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, creed, age, gender, sexual orientation, parental or marital status, gender identity, gender expression, medical or genetic information, ethnic or national origins, citizenship status, veteran or military status or disability. E-mail questions to TitleIXCoordinator@bethelks.edu.

You can watch Ms. Balzer’s presentation here:

Restorative Justice conference about creating community


If Restorative Justice is about “the community,” then the first RJ conference in Kansas was about creating community.

Bethel College and its peacebuilding institute, the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (KIPCOR), hosted that conference, Restorative Kansas: A Vision for Justice, April 19-20 on the Bethel campus.

At the opening session for Restorative Kansas, Sheryl Wilson, KIPCOR executive director, noted, “On my first day of work, Nov. 6 [2017], I found out that within six months we were putting on the first-ever statewide conference on Restorative Justice.”

Though it was a daunting prospect, “I was thrilled beyond measure,” she continues. “Here was an opportunity to organize and bring together all the people who have an interest in this field – the practitioners, doing your work in places where people don’t know exactly what you do or where to place you. We want to give you a place to find community.”

She then instructed everyone in the audience to “look around and find someone you didn’t come with. You might have seen them before but you really don’t know them. Find your conference buddy. We are a small but mighty community and I want us to behave like one.”

Wilson and Greg Paul, a communication studies professor at Kansas State University, moderated the keynote panel for that opening session.

It was a “dream panel.” Says Wilson, “Almost everyone we wanted for it, we got. But for the most part, they didn’t know each other, and we wondered, how are they going to interact?”

Morris Jenkins is helping the Fort Myers Police Department develop a community engagement project. Joanne Katz, a retired professor of legal studies, recently returned from a Fulbright term in Vietnam. Raj Sethuraju works with community policing. Jasmyn Story focuses on integrating RJ into educational institutions, particularly around sexual violence on college campuses. Edward Valandra leads the Colorizing Restorative Justice project for Living Justice Press.

The interaction was everything conference planners hoped for and more.

“They got along so well,” Wilson says. “[They modeled] how we support each other’s work. One thing we hear all the time from RJ practitioners is ‘We need support.’

“We intentionally and authentically created community [with this conference].”

She says there’s a possibility of recreating the panel in the future, perhaps at a national or regional RJ conference, or even virtually, given that RJ practitioners are often widely scattered.

Much of the day-and-a-half-long conference was given to workshop sessions.

Since Kansas has a fairly active “Restorative Justice in Schools” initiative, of which KIPCOR is also a key part, one workshop track was devoted to that, with a session on restorative practices in Kansas public schools, a session on national trends, and a session on restorative practices in higher education.

Other workshop options included “Restoring Justice in Native American Communities,” RJ in prison programs for victims and offenders, restorative practices in faith communities, juvenile justice reform, RJ and community policing, and trauma-informed restorative practices.

Mark Umbreit, an internationally known expert in the latter, led the session, which Wilson notes was “one of the best-attended workshops of the conference.”

Story and David Karp, a professor at Skidmore College, spoke in Bethel College’s Friday convocation about a project called Campus PRISM (Promoting Restorative Initiatives for Sexual Misconduct), which works at having RJ inform issues of sexual harassment and sexual violence on college campuses.

Story is herself a survivor of sexual assault. “I had gone through the criminal justice process,” she says, “and it didn’t work for me. It was a ‘system of continuous shame’ that impeded me getting the accountability I deserved.

“I needed a space to share my story and flesh out the harm, and also a space for the other people I cared about who were also affected, such as my mother and my partner.”

“The starting place is, ‘What was the harm?’” Karp adds. “And then, ‘What are the needs associated with that harm?’ The way you answer those questions can be a restorative response.

“What we’ve discovered is that for many survivors, one of the primary desires around healing is acknowledgment of the harm that was done.” However, the U.S. criminal justice system has “trained [the accused] to deny or minimize responsibility,” he says.

“So we need to create the conditions for the person who caused the harm to admit it and accept responsibility – because not doing so denies or invalidates the victim’s experience.

“We’re not saying … that Restorative Justice is the only option, but it needs to be one option. We’re discovering that many students are [asking] for restorative options.

“From personal experience, I realized it’s not just me with the need to repair the harm,” Story says. “The perpetrator wanted to, too, but he had no modality, no training, nothing to help him. I didn’t know I needed the apology until I got it, and it changed everything. And he could have done it so much better, but he didn’t know how.”

In addition to Bethel College and KIPCOR, sponsors and planners for Restorative Kansas were the Center for Conflict Resolution, Kansas City, Missouri, Kansas Department of Corrections, Victim Services, Topeka, K-State Department of Communication Studies, Mennonite Central Committee-Central States, based in North Newton, the National Association of Community and Restorative Justice (NACRJ), Offender Victim Ministries of Newton, and the Salina Institute for Restorative Justice.

Michael Gilbert, executive director of NACRJ, gave his summary observations at the close of Restorative Kansas.

“What I saw were deeply substantive, deeply meaningful, intensely important conversations. If you have those conversations with other people in your life, there will be ripples on ripples of good instead of harm.

“Kansas is on the move. You might not be large in number but you will be.”

Bethel College ranks at No. 1 in College Consensus’ ranking of Kansas colleges and universities, and is the only Kansas private college listed in the Forbes.com analysis of top colleges and universities, the Washington Monthly National Universities-Liberal Arts section and the National Liberal Arts College category of U.S. News & World Report, all for 2017-18. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.

Bethel College does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, creed, age, gender, sexual orientation, parental or marital status, gender identity, gender expression, medical or genetic information, ethnic or national origins, citizenship status, veteran or military status or disability. E-mail questions to TitleIXCoordinator@bethelks.edu.