Linking Peacebuilding to Undergraduate Education
“I am an individual who gives a lot of importance to Christian faith, values, and whole person education,” Dr. A. Christina Nancy, assistant professor of physics at Women’s Christian College in Chennai, India, said in a recent interview. Dr. Christina Nancy is a physics educator who finds opportunities for peacebuilding in her daily life. “I interact with hundreds of teenaged girls each year, who come from various religious, cultural, language, caste, and socioeconomic backgrounds,” she explained, “and I recognize the importance and necessity of peacebuilding as an inseparable entity from undergraduate education.”
Dr. Christina Nancy believes that small, everyday gestures can contribute to an environment of harmony or conflict. “Peacebuilding starts from the way one looks at another person, their thoughts or opinions about each other, how they smile or shake hands,” she said. “In class, most of the students sit next to a person belonging to the same religion or caste or status, to always feel safe and comfortable.” In her eyes, this can be a first step in “groupism,” through which people cling to the familiar and avoid encounters with those they perceive to be different. As a teacher and a peacebuilder, she takes action. “I put students in mixed groups for classroom activities such as quizzes, presentations, games, and lab work,” she said. “This way, they are forced to work along with a mixed group of students, and they get to know each other better.”
Educated in science, Dr. Christina Nancy was eager for more formal training as a peacebuilder. So, with the support of the United Board, she attended a three-week training course at the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI) in May 2018. MPI courses and field study gave her new insights into the fundamentals of peacebuilding, interreligious understanding, and the ways that culture and identity can be resources for peacebuilding. She heard the peacebuilding stories of other participants—who came from 22 different countries and diverse social, cultural, and religious backgrounds—and is already sharing some of them in the values education classes she teaches at WCC. “For example, I discussed a case study related to two rival ethnic groups in Kenya and how the uneducated women there played a major role in peacebuilding initiatives,” she said. “All my students, being women, were really motivated to hear this.”
Dr. Christina Nancy often advises her students on the importance of inner peace, and the MPI program gave her a chance to cultivate her own sense of inner peace. “Personally, MPI has given me space for self-reflection and continuous learning,” she said, “and the exposure I experienced in terms of co-participants from various countries, faiths, and languages was really valuable. In addition to peacebuilding, I have learned many important life lessons,” she said.