International Studies & Programs

Symposium on Peace Building in Colombia Strengthens MSU Partnerships

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Published: Wednesday, 17 May 2017 Author: Joy M Whitten

CLACS faculty Galia Benitez, James Madison College, and Elvira Sánchez-Blake, Romance and Classical Studies, College of Arts and Letters, travelled to Colombia in summer 2016, using strategic partnership funds. Their travel was part of a larger effort to increase collaboration and exchange between MSU and Colombian higher education institutions and expand our networks.  It laid the foundation for the 2017 CLACS symposium, as well as a study abroad program and future research collaborations.  

With a Creating Inclusive Excellence Grant (CIEG) from the MSU Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives, CLACS, Dr. Benitez and Dr. Sánchez-Blake organized Threads of Hope: Weaving Peace in Colombia. Undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and community members attended the symposium.  Through a series of panel presentations, an art exhibit, movie night, and quilting workshop, the symposium drew attention to the long history of conflict in Colombia, the recent peace accords, and the challenges of building peace. 

The featured speaker was Juana Alicia Ruiz Hernandez from the group Women Weaving Dreams and Flavors of Peace (Mujeres Tejiendo Sueños y Sabores de Paz), which received the 2015 National Peace Prize in Colombia. She described how the women's collective quilting provided a space to heal injuries inflicted by repeating cycles of physical, social and cultural violence.   Dr. Sánchez-Blake originally met Juana during a Fulbright project focused on the use of artistic media, such as the quilts, to address trauma and to transform victims into advocates able to make their voices heard in the peace process.

Ricardo Esquivia Ballestas, a human rights lawyer and peace activist who founded the civil society organization Sembrandopaz (Sowing Peace) described how his group works to create safe, open spaces for dialogue to build relationships and trust among different stakeholders.  

Dr. Benitez and her students, Betsy Borre and Quincy Kittle, presented research on the impact of Colombia's 50-year civil war on different productive sectors in Colombia and their stakes in the peace process.

Rosa Jiménez Ahumada, director of the Observatory for Forced Displacement and the master's program in Social Conflict and Peace-Building at the University of Cartagena, discussed efforts by Colombian universities and educators to teach a culture of peace to counter the culture of violence.

Further illustrating that point, a presentation by Constanza López, associate professor of Spanish, University of North Florida, highlighted groups of youth who had rejected violence and turned to art to promote social change. These youth used their art to draw attention to individuals who worked for peace and justice and to define these advocates as national heroes.

Alejandro Herrero-Olaizola, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Spanish, University of Michigan, discussed the negotiations and conflicts that brought Colombia to a final peace accord and outlined challenges the country faces, stressing the importance of an engaged electorate.

The symposium concluded with a quilting workshop facilitated by Joni Starr, MSU Department of Teacher Education, in which participants reflected on and expressed their own hopes for reconciliation, cooperation and, ultimately, peace.

Threads of Hope: Weaving Peace in Colombia

Many thanks to the volunteer organizing committe. We are especially grateful for the invaluable support from the MSU Colombian students, Fulbright Fellows, visiting scholars and faculty.   

In addition to the CIEG grant, CLACS thanks our co-sponsors: James Madison College, the Center for Advanced Study of International Development, Romance and Classical Studies, the MSU College of Law's Office of Graduate and International Programs, the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities, and the College of Arts and Letters. 

Journalist, Liliana Ospina (Latinos en Michigan TV) covered the event.