Reflections from Park University AFSC Campus Peace Intern, Matthew Burton

April 2011

The Peace Education Club, or Peace Club as it is more commonly known, accomplished many things. Together as a unit of collective peace to themselves and the student body, the group succeeded to stay present in light of a not so peaceful culture. Bringing themselves and the Park University student body together in intellectually changeling way became the motto for the Peace Club.

The Peace Club, in just about 25 weeks, began from scratch to being declared the “Best Club (Small)” of the year by Park University and continues strong to this date. The Peace Club did many things within that time to have won such an award. I believe the three most powerful things the club did this year were documentary nights/open discussions, the Eyes Wide Open Exhibit, and the T-Shirt screen-printing. These were not only excellent opportunities to connect with the student body, but also descriptive expressions to the clubs core characteristics.

Through the documentary nights and open discussions, the club worked to be initiative and cutting edge by presenting films of many topics. The club showed 7 films at the university and even went out to see one as a group over the course of the year. The films were as diverse as the student body at Park; we showed films about the financial institution, non-violent forms of civil disobedience, deleterious aspects of the Capitalistic hierarchical cultural and society of disproportionate wealth, and speeches of the great Dr. King on his birthday. The club would provide food and inspiring conversation after the films. Flyers, along with mass e-mails and word of mouth were the main forms of communication for the films and attendance ranged from 5 to 25 people.

The club also recognized the idea is not always about the cutting edge or what is cool, but rather to be somber and reflective in ones actions. The club best exemplified this by their reflection on peace and gratitude during the Eyes Wide Open Exhibit. During the exhibit the club picked the busiest spot on campus to displaying over a 100 boots and shoes representing soldiers who have died in combat by either a combatant or their personal hands only after being ravaged by the violence of war. In addition, non-military shoes represented a percentage of civilians killed. We had many people come up to us to share their personal thanks and stories about their loved ones. We had current and past individuals who served in the military thank us for showing the public the true cost of war.

In good spirit, the club also felt need to celebrate the living, the life, and the joy of the world; all the while reaching out to the students and generating funds for future activities. The club hosted a student contest, asking students to submit a design that would be voted upon and printed on a t-shirt. After deciding on a design the club succeeded, after many failed attempts due to the rain, to hand print T-Shirts on a beautiful spring day in the center of campus.  The shirts were given to those interested and in return we asked for donations.  We did this as our required fundraiser. The students enjoyed being able to pick their own colors patterns and watch or participate in the actual printing of their shirts. The club not only had a wonderful time during this experience but also made some money while doing it.  None of this would have been possible without the coordination and planning on part of the club.

The club built a great relationship with the events coordinator at the university. Almost everything the club wanted to do got planned and accomplished. The one thing that the club planned that did not get any response from was a peace discussion the club was going to host. We had a certified mediator lined up to facilitate the discussion; we sent out e-mails to nearly 100 people and posted flyers all over the campus a month before the event. As time went on and no one responded, we decided to put it off. The lady we had that was going to help us out was very understanding and said we caused no inconvenience. As a club, we are always brainstorming new and fun things to do while recognizing our time and person power are limited. The club set a dedicated agenda and managed to get much of it done.

The club would have not been as successful without its fair share of challenges. Time was a major challenge to the group.  Within the process of starting up the club and having the club change hands caused the club to miss out of the first quarter of the year.  Gaining new members and a name around the school also has taken strategic planning and execution.  In the first week the club got started we tried very hard to get student participation. We collected over 70 email addresses that were compiled in an email group. We sent all of our upcoming club events out through this email thread and it never generated much, if any response. We found that inviting people personally and having the core group of club members reach out to their friends was the best way to bring people in.

I felt that if I was to be successful with the club that it needed to have a high rate of people coming to all of the events. This was a great challenge for me because I did not understand why people would not want to come to some of our events. I believe that busy schedules and an apathetic nature within the student body lead to low numbers. I learned that developing a core group of friends that are passionate about the topic is the best way to maintain a solid club. Two of the biggest clubs on campus are Christian clubs and their average numbers are never more than twenty. After I got over the idea that a club needed to have lots of people to be successful the club began to flourish.

I also anticipated that some of the club activities would not be to found to the university administration, but we never once had issues doing any of the ideas that we wanted to do. During the Eyes Wide Open exhibit the campus security even helped us set up boots.

I learned many things about myself and the movement of peace through this wonderful opportunity. I learned that many people are more into saving their own vanity than they are saving the planet from bombs and violence, but the people that are caring if brought together can bring about great change. I learned that people are so busy with their 9 to 5 jobs that they often don't look past their own blinders. I learned that the power is not in the amount of people you have but the love and compassion the people have is what caries the club to great places. I learned that students don't think that the normal style of protesting, unless given large amounts of people, will work. I learned that they are very frightened of what the future will hold and at times lost to what to do about it. I now know that there are people that care and want to make change and that the focus needs to be on bringing those people together to form a larger more unified network to build a better and safer world.

Suggestions for next time:

The club will remain next year, and many members have committed to being club officers.  I think it will be valuable for these people to stay in contact with a peace community, outside of the university, for training and support.  I also wanted to have a live band come to the school that was never done; I think that would be a great idea. Also I would still have liked to see the peace talk take place, maybe if it was within a class we would get more participation. Over all the year went very well.

Thank you AFSC and Ira for this great learning opportunity!!

Matthew Burton

The Peace Education Club