Be the Change

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Emily Sinkovic | University Relations | 9 November 2010

“Talking about peace is not enough. Writing about peace is not enough. We have to go out and do peace,” urges Chad Ford, the director of the David O. McKay Center for Intercultural Understanding. The idea of the McKay Center originated from former BYU–Hawaii President Eric Shumway who felt that peace was something that was frequently discussed on campus, but students lacked the tools to actually make peace a reality. “I look at peace, not as a noun, but as a verb,” Ford explains. He encourages students in the Intercultural Peacebuilding (IPB) program to do the same. 

The 19-credit IPB certificate is an academic extension of the McKay Center that currently involves approximately 100 students who study conflict resolution, practice mediation skills, and demonstrate the application of their knowledge through various projects, including “Be the Change.” “Be the Change” is a service project in which students apply peacebuilding skills to a real-life situation where they can be an influence for good. Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s admonition that “we must be the change we wish to see in the world” and Ford’s theory that “there’s nothing that teaches us quite like serving others,” the project has resulted in hundreds of hours of service and practical field experience. “I think the point of the ‘Be the Change’ project is just to make a difference,” says Jenna Pruitt, a student in the IPB program. “It’s teaching us to take the initiative and not to wait for another project to be started up. We can each make a difference as an individual.” As students complete the “Be the Change” project and other class requirements in the IPB program, they become certified mediators, capable of mediating community, family, and workplace conflicts. 

Students refine their peacebuilding skills through peer mediation, a free service offered by the McKay Center to students who are struggling with conflicts in their lives. McKay Center student supervisor Katie Williams states that “peer mediation gives each party power, validation, and creativity in solving their conflicts.” Mediators are selected from the pool of students who have completed the first two IPB classes. The student mediators are trained to help create a safe atmosphere for the parties to discuss issues and generate a solution together. Williams, who has played a major role in securing the peer mediation program, says, “[Peer mediators] have been through more than 50 hours of training and have role-played and studied conflict resolution… they are completely capable. I’ve seen it happen, and it works. It’s awesome.” Similar to the “Be the Change” project, the peer mediation program allows students to apply the concepts learned in class while providing meaningful service for fellow students.

Through the IPB program, students learn that “we cannot be an influence for peace until we, ourselves, are at peace.” When we are striving for peace in our own lives,” says Ford, “we can be a powerful invitation to others to give up their conflicts and to give up their wars.” To help students and others obtain peace, the McKay Center teamed up with Arbinger, a global consulting firm that works to help organizations solve conflicts through an innovative theory that deals with the problem of self-deception. The McKay Center hosts Arbinger workshops to help participants come to a realization of their role in conflict, thus setting them on the path to resolution. “Arbinger workshops can be quite grueling,” laughs IPB 450 student Jordan Dosch, “but at the end of it, you come out a new person.”

“Peace isn’t easy,” Ford says. “It’s not just holding hands and singing ‘Kumbayah.’ It takes a lot of work...but I think most of [the students] would say that it’s definitely worth the time they put into it.” The students involved in the McKay Center are a very literal fulfillment of David O. McKay’s prophecy that “From this school…will go forth men and women whose influence will be felt for good towards the establishment of peace internationally.” Years of pondering on these words have caused Ford to come to the following conclusion: “I don’t know that President McKay envisioned a group of diplomats going out or people working for the United Nations or their respective governments, but I think [he] understood that, in every encounter, with every human being, we have the chance to be an influence for good toward the establishment of peace. I think that’s what he foresaw.”

Photo by Julie Hawke

[Click here to view the McKay Center website]

[View clips from an interview with Dr. Ford and his students]