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Student Peace Conference encourages inclusivity, activism and a better world

| Monday, April 1, 2019

Organized by Notre Dame undergraduate students, for undergraduate and graduate students from all over the world, the annual Notre Dame Student Peace Conference ran Friday and Saturday in the Hesburgh Center to promote dialogue on issues related to peace-building, social justice and conflict transformation.

The theme of this year’s conference — “Expanding Circles: Peace in Polarized Age?” — encouraged students to consider inclusive peace-building in the midst of a polarized reality.

The conference featured a keynote session delivered by Delaney Tarr, a co-founder of the March for Our Lives and a graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Tarr discussed her experiences actively advocating for gun violence prevention, youth empowerment and voter registration since the Parkland shooting.

“We were just another statistic; we were just another group of students going through the grief and the pain so many had before, hoping, praying and fighting for something different, for a future that maybe doesn’t have to be so bleak,” Tarr said.

Reflecting on the first gun control rally the March for Our Lives founders attended in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where Emma Gonzalez gave her famous “We Call BS” speech, Tarr said it was there that the students decided to mobilize.

“We understood that we had power that had an ability to change the landscape, to change the world even,” she said.

Throughout her session, Tarr stressed the target of her organization’s activism.

“We reminded ourselves we were fighting the core of injustice, not the people who have perpetrated it,” she said. “We were fighting the NRA, we were fighting corruption and the systems that put it in place, not the people who become victims to it, not the people who have subscribed to a system that they don’t know an alternative to.”

Senior and conference co-chair Monica Montgomery said although the conference usually invites a practitioner or an academic as the keynote speaker, they specifically chose a young activist this year.

“We were really excited about the prospect of a student activist because the [March for Our Lives] movement has done great things, and they’re going to continue and Delaney has been really involved,” Montgomery said. “It really relates to our theme of expanding circles of who’s involved in decision making and power because March for Our Lives has tried to redefine who can have a say in the gun debate.”

In addition to Tarr’s keynote speech, the conference also included a number of breakout discussions, workshops, research presentations and film screenings proposed by students to the conference committee, all relating to the theme of this year’s conference.

Senior and conference co-chair Maddie Thompson said the committee worked to pair proposals covering similar topics together and to include both traditional and creative learning experiences, which translated into a few film screenings.

On Friday night, students gathered to watch the EPIX original documentary “Under the Gun,” which examined why gun control laws struggle to pass although the number of mass shootings continues to rise. In addition, students in the Center for Social Concerns’ border immersion seminar presented a film on migration policy at the U.S.-Mexico border, Montgomery said.

The conference also included talks on social movements and policy change, intersectional justice, quality and toleration in public institutions and the role of sustainable development.

Montgomery said she hopes the variety of topics helped people engage in dialogue on issues they understand while also expanding their peace studies and justice knowledge and acknowledging the reality of our modern situation.

“We do live in a very polarized political system in this present day, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t work towards inclusivity,” Montgomery said. “It’s a core doctrine of peace students to look at how inclusivity can work in the peace process and how can we include more people in the negotiating table, how can we consider local groups that should be involved with these projects.”

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About Serena Zacharias

Serena is a senior majoring in Neuroscience and Behavior and minoring in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She hails from the great cheese state of Wisconsin and currently serves as the ND News Editor for The Observer.

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