Donna McInnis

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What are contexts and issues that you work on? How are you using peace education to address these issues? What keeps you going?

The divisions that exist in academia have always been a source of frustration for me. Compartmentalization thwarts so many gorgeous possibilities for learning and connecting, and more importantly, for bridging differences. Dismantling the “silos” erected across and between disciplines has always been a secret Modus Operandi for me! “Action” and “service” weigh heavily in each and every one of my courses. Learners are encouraged to “find their way” to becoming agents for positive social change. With the expanded curriculum launched last year at my university, I am seeing a more diverse representation of nationalities and majors in my peace studies and peace education classes. Explicitly exposing learners from all disciplines to the “interdisciplinary possibilities” for nonviolence, conflict resolution and dialogue, human rights and social justice, compassion and caring, mindful social action, and environmental sustainability, can only serve to make for a more lush, rich, and hope-building learning experience for all!

What has been your most meaningful or noteworthy moment in your peace education career?

It is impossible for me to put my finger on one striking moment in my lifetime working for peace. I am in awe everyday when I meet my students. It is their energy and enthusiasm that keeps me going! Bearing witness as they explore and identify their unique pathways and possibilities for peace-building profoundly intensifies my resolve and gives me hope on a daily basis. Reading their reflections at the end of each semester fills me with unimaginable joy! Whenever a student says, "This course changed my life and my thinking", or "This course took me to a deeper level of understanding, and urged me to see and believe, that although peace does not come easily, but requires skills, knowledge, and strategic planning, a better world IS possible!", I know, at that moment, that my chosen path is sound and true. I am enormously grateful for the friends that I have made within our peace education community! Peace educators are interesting, creative, compassionate people! The deep relationships forged through these many years are eternal and continue to inform, energize, and inspire my work now, and will continue to do so in the future.

How and why did you start working in peace education?

Both of my parents were “peace” activists and brought us up to believe that we needed to stand by our values and convictions. My Dad was a WWII veteran, and became an active “Veteran for Peace'' right up until the day he died. He was a Dentist and every Monday (his day “off”) volunteered his time to offer dental care for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities at St. Coletta’s Day School located, at the time, in Hanover, Massachusetts (https://cushingcenters.org). When we were very young, we often tagged along, and played in the clinic with the children who were waiting for treatment. I understand now, that this was his kind gesture to give my Mom a day off from the kids! But, more importantly, this was his way of teaching us, through his example and by exposing us to others who were different or not as “privileged” as we were. He did this all throughout our young lives! This made us acutely “aware” and humble, really. My Mom was a terminal care nurse and needless to say, her “service” was valuable and precious to both her patients and to their families. After Mom and Dad were divorced in 1978, Dad regularly volunteered at Mother Theresa’s Sisters of Charity Mission in New York City. He would finish his work week, get in the car, drive the 4 hours from Massachusetts, and spend the weekend there. You see, his cousin, Father Bill Petrie, worked with Mother Theresa in Calcutta for at least 35 years. Bill's sisters, Ann and Jan, made it their life's work to produce and distribute two documentary films about Mother Theresa! The older I become, the more deeply I realize the impact that my family member’s lives of service and action had on me. The core belief that each person has the choice to make this world a better place in any and all ways that they can, is an important one to impart, I think. When I moved to Japan in 1991, I was given a great deal of freedom in designing my courses, at Soka University. At the time, I began teaching a course called “Global Issues 2000”. Funny, to think about this now. We focused primarily on environmental issues, possible solutions, and lifestyle changes that one could choose to make that would benefit the environment. I “stumbled” upon a couple of Betty Reardon’s earliest publications, for sale at a conference in Kurashiki, Japan in 1993. The contents of her work, struck me like a bolt of lightning! I met Betty, shortly after that time, when she was teaching a semester in Japan, at Teachers College in Tokyo (John Fanselow, the Director at the time, allowed me to sit in on the courses! A precious and life altering gift!!). That was it for me! From that moment forward, I found every way, shape, and form to incorporate peace education into my life and my teaching.