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  • Writer's pictureKevin Shorner-Johnson

The Magic of an Artistic Peacebuilding Class

As the Artistic Peacebuilding class drew to a close, many of us looked around the room unwilling to leave a space that had become sacred. In end of course reflections, one student wrote, "This course brought back the meaning of education by allowing free thinking, creatively, and true life impact." Another student spoke of meaning, connection, and comfort zones:

"This class was one of my favorite courses at Etown. . . . Each class was new and exciting, yet all of the subject matter built on one another beautifully . . . Each class brought us out of our comfort zones and taught us that we are more connected to each other than we think."

As Jon Rudy and I reflected upon our co-teaching of the course, we recognized this class was different, special, and one of those classes that will have a lasting, deep impact on students as well as the professors. With humility, we realize that great classes happen when students work together with professors to craft a space that honors learning and community.

Students using Lummi Sticks in a musical activity
Students explore the Neurobiology of Trauma through Music

Jon and I began planning the course a year ago with intentions to explore concepts through interdisciplinary explorations and hands-on experiences in the arts. Entering this class for both of us often felt a lot like a trust fall, we committed ourselves to going with the flow and being fully responsive to students and the subject.

As I look back upon our semester, I am awed by the diversity of our experiences. We hosted a poetry reading to explore the power of metaphor and poetry to see deeper into phenomena and our beings. We brought in art professor, Dr. Kristi Arnold to explore Japanese Sumi-e Ink Painting - exploring the power of artistic essence through line and value. We drummed within circle drumming traditions. We danced - exploring Northeastern US folk dancing and Balinese children's games. We listened to Dr. Mary Cohen as she reflected upon community choirs in prisons and victim-offender reconciliation. And we hugged a tree in meditation and explored the spirituality of connectedness.

We often describe learning as a journey. In this course we changed class locations six times, offering students an opportunity to explore how our interactions with each other impact our being. One student wrote,

"I think changing from the classroom to the various areas propelled everyone to take a step back from the role as student and the pressure of doing well to a learner, a peacebuilder, and and experiencer."

Students sharing a meal while sitting around a table.
Students Sharing an Intentional Meal

For their culminating artistic peacebuilding projects, students wrote and illustrated a children's book, led a piano painting project, empowered the self through video story, learned Bollywood dance in relationship, explored connectedness through a painted chair and Chinese paper cutting, used social media for the representation of peace, wrote a song, engaged family and friends in a collaborative art project on peace, and much more. I have so much gratitude for the magic of a course that reclaimed notions that learning is sacred when it is done in relationship, uncomfortable silence, deep conversation, and fully-embodied expression.

Page from Children's Book by Jessica Cox
Page from Children's Book by Jessica Cox

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