Walla Walla University Peacemaking Week: Civil Discourse & Civil Rights

By: Emily Muthersbaugh, Student Life Manager, Walla Walla University

This year, Walla Walla University’s sixth annual Peacemaking Weekend extended to a full week and focused on civil rights and civil discourse, promoting peaceful discussion and interaction during a politically charged time.

The week extended from January 18 to 23 and began with the national holiday celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in order to honor King’s commitment civil discourse and civil rights. Rising tension in the political landscape during this election year called for a continued discussion of issues particularly central to Dr. King’s work: civility.

Peacemaking Week began on Monday with WWU’s weekly campus-wide assembly called CommUnity. The program featured choral music, a video depicting the legacy of King, a singing of “We Shall Overcome”, and a presentation by Dr. Ricardo Graham, president of the Pacific Union Conference. Graham presented: “A King’s Dream.” Monday evening, WWU joined Whitman College and the Walla Walla community in a march to honor the life and legacy of MLK that extended from Whitman’s campus to the main plaza in downtown Walla Walla. The WWU choir performed gospel songs during the march.

On Tuesday of Peacemaking Week the Amnesty International Club served warm beverages and encouraged those passing by to take a moment and discuss a heated topic civilly with a stranger. The event “Peace Drinks” lasted three hours and received significant interest on campus. On Wednesday, the Social Work Club challenged the campus to engage in a day of intentional listening. They passed out pins with the phrase “The Future is Listening” on it and those who took the pins were asked to be more intentional about listening to others in conversation, rather than dominating discussion.

Walla Walla University’s David Bullock (chair of the Department of Communications and Languages) and Montgomery Buell (professor of history) delivered a presentation Thursday evening: “Making Peace with Uncivil Campaigns.” Bullock started the discussion by presenting about some of the least civil presidential campaigns in United States history and Buell discussed where the concept of “civil discourse” came from. There was significant interest from the audience in the topic as the current election is seen by many as more partisan than ever.

Friday evening continued the tradition of a candlelight vigil and march honoring lives lost in efforts to promote peace. The vigil began outside the University Church immediately following the vespers program and was led again by the Amnesty International Club. After a scripture reading and prayer, participants marched with candles around the perimeter of the campus, ending in the Student Activities Center where students practiced civil discourse in debate.

Saturday morning featured a panel discussion: “Making Peace with Uncivil Friends” where panelists considered how we can engage with each other more civilly every day, particularly when discussing controversial topics. Panel participants included Loren Dickenson, Brooklynn Larson, Cendra Clarke, Alden Thompson, and Emily Tillotson as moderator.

The Peacemaking Weekend Committee is now working in collaboration with the Chaplain’s Office, Martin Luther King Jr. Day Committee, and the Office of Diversity on preparations for next year’s Peacemaking Weekend, with a commitment to promoting ongoing peaceful discourse in the Walla Walla Valley.