Student peace initiative prioritizes conversation

By Nadav Ben-David

Blaise Harrison ’25 wants to talk. Last Friday, on the steps in front of JR Howard Hall, Harrison, supported by groups including the Arabic Club, Muslim Student Association (MSA), Hillel, Spiritual Life and Inclusion and Multicultural Engagement (IME), invited students to stop and talk to each other. The topic: the Israel-Hamas war, and the impact it has had on our campus culture.

The event’s goal was simple. Harrison held up a poster board reading, “Cultivate Community. Talk to us,” inviting passersby to engage.  

The board’s straightforward message was also printed and displayed on flyers around the area of the demonstration. This message was the idea at the core of the demonstration and a rallying cry that Harrison emphasized in conversations with many people that morning.

“We are representatives of students on campus that are connected to what is happening in Israel and Palestine,” the flyers read. “We are standing together on the basis that all human life is sacred. We stand firmly against the killings of Palestinian and Israeli citizens and condemn all acts of violence.”

Harrison, a Jewish student, first pitched the idea to Hillel, a Jewish campus organization with a chapter serving Portland State University and Lewis & Clark. They then reached out to staff at IME and students involved in MSA and Arabic Club.

“This has come by people physically talking to each other and a lot of conversations happening at the same time in different places,” Harrison said.

For three hours, Harrison and a handful of fellow demonstrators stood, encouraging people to stop and talk to them. The demonstrators held a range of identities, including Muslim, Jewish and “Muslim-adjacent and Jewish-adjacent” students, intentional phrasing Harrison used to be more inclusive of people’s various identities and relationships to the subject matter.

The conversations covered a variety of topics and were very thoughtful and heartening. 

“I’ve had interactions with people that have just been talking to me about their emotions and how they are overwhelmed by what they’re seeing, or (that) they’re not feeling seen on campus,” Harrison said.

One student who engaged with demonstrators shared that they had been harassed online for posting some political opinions about the conflict. This experience, which many LC students may relate to, was extremely troubling to listeners, drawing empathy from other students. Harrison shared that behaviors like this are what they are hoping to address with their demonstration and subsequent conversations.

“If there is language that is sparking that intense of emotions, I believe it is critical we are talking about that on campus,” Harrison said. “We must talk about where those emotions are coming from.”

Harrison initially had the idea for this event in response to divides they had noticed forming on campus. 

Harrison stressed that the event was a collaborative effort between students and staff from a variety of backgrounds and connections to Israel and Palestine. That said, the event could not have materialized without the passion and drive Harrison has for community building, communication and conflict resolution.

Harrison has a background in facilitating hard discussions. They have been trained in conflict resolution by working with Community Dialogues and an organization called Living Room Conversations where people with different viewpoints have in moderated discussions about hot-button issues. 

Alongside the short conversations that Harrison facilitated on Friday, they offered an email list students could join to participate in a longer, sit-down discussion in the future. Email if you are interested in participating.

“I am a big believer in conversation and I really, really want to hear what people have to say,” Harrison said.

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