Editor's Note: A previous version of this article misquoted Larry Gerstein, director of the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies. It has since been corrected.
On Thursday, Oct. 21, Susana Rivera-Mills, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, delivered a lecture in the Teachers College titled “The Path to Peace and Social Justice.”
The event was organized by the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies and drew a small in-person audience, with an additional 25 listeners on Zoom.
Rivera-Mills’ speech was originally scheduled for March 2020 as part of the Benjamin V. Cohen Peace Conference: “Building a Beloved Community.” However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was postponed.
Despite this, Rivera-Mills has “been receptive ever since [March 2020] to give this talk,” said Larry Gerstein, director of the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies.
Rivera-Mills’ speech pulled inspiration from her childhood in El Salvador, which included the Salvadoran Civil War. As a result, she and the rest of her family emigrated from El Salvador to first, San Francisco and then Eureka, California, where she learned to speak English.
“I didn’t speak English and I wasn’t doing well academically, I needed to be placed in special education. So, I was sent to special education,” Rivera-Mills said. “And then, once I learned English, they put me back in the classroom.”
Rivera-Mills’ interest in peace solutions came after obtaining more education. From there, she watched others that were disillusioned by the war she experienced as a child work to change the role the church played in many lives, including her own.
“By involving the poor in their own liberation and offering Christianity as a tool toward a more perfect society, liberation theologists dramatically changed the relationship between not only the church and the state, but also the church and the people,” she said.
Following the presentation, one member of the audience, junior elementary education major Jenni Cruz, asked about methods to embrace diversity on a daily basis, because she said she is often told to do so, but does not know how.
“When I walk into a space, I have just trained myself to really do a quick mental check and ask the question, ‘Who’s not here?’ because I feel the responsibility to either represent that voice, and, if I can’t, at least point out the fact that we need to consult that voice, because it’s not there,” Rivera-Mills said.
Rivera-Mills also noted the effect teachers have on embracing diversity.
Gerstein, who is also a professor of psychology-counseling, plans to implement Rivera-Mills’ advice moving forward.
“Thinking about … voices that are not present, either someone in the room not [speaking] up or someone’s not there — so, I try to do that as well,” Gerstein said. “Try to be respectful of folks that don’t want to talk, but, at the same time, invite them to join the conversation.”