Making room for peace in academia

I was delighted when, a few weeks back, I stumbled upon a discussion on social media where scholars talked about avoiding academic conferences to reduce their carbon footprint. I was even more delighted when it was acknowledged that there are other structural challenges that stop researchers and students from around the world from attending international conferences. For example, scholars from non-Western institutions, students or early career researchers who do not have access to funding, parents with young children, scholars with illnesses or disabilities, and more. The most exciting part, for me, is that this acknowledgement is not a loss. It opens up the possibility of changing academic culture in new directions that, I hope, will be not only more eco-friendly, but also more inclusive and nonviolent. And hopefully, exploring new pathways for human connection in academia will also help us find new ways of connecting with the wider society and making an impact for change.

I have been looking for alternatives for a while now, not just to academic conferences, but to academic engagement in general. I am one of those researchers who cannot even contemplate the idea of attending an international conference at the moment. I have had two children while doing my PhD, including one who has had chronic health issues, so travelling to international conferences was simply out of the question. To be honest, part of me resented the fact that I could not attend international conferences or publish as many papers as my colleagues. As the list of publications and presentations failed to grow on my CV, it was hard not to feel like a failure myself. Yet, there was also so much that I was learning through my experience, even though it was not grasped by my CV, and I decided to embrace it and explore it further.

After graduating from my doctoral journey, I decided to start looking for everyday peace around me and building a bridge between peace research and the community in order to put research into practice. When I tried to step out of academia however, I discovered that I had a lot of work to do to be able to reach out to the community. I spent the past two years learning things that I did not learn at Uni – and unlearning some of them. I have found that, in order to reach out and get people to trust me, I had to build genuine relationships, which was only possible by making myself vulnerable. I had to learn to change the way I wrote and speak about peace, which does not just mean to erase academic jargon. It means writing in a way that creates a connection.

Perhaps I was naive enough to think that being an ‘expert’ would be enough. Perhaps, this is because this is how communication is like in the academic world, where so much of the way we interact is heavily mediated by socially constructed institutions and rituals. Everything is institutionalized. You are x person with y number of publications representing z institution.

Do not get me wrong. I have loved every single day of University life. I loved it because I learnt so much from the people I met, and I can never get enough of it. I have met people I deeply admire and respect and inspired me to be who I am today. It is thanks to these brilliant people that I have found the courage to believe in myself. I have loved the few conferences I went to because there were always powerful ideas and connection that stood out, and left me pumped and excited for days and weeks thereafter. I love the people that constitute academia – so much more than the institutions they represent.

The problem is not the absence of love and connection in academia. The problem is that we try too hard to conceal it, and in the end, we may end up with little time and energy for it. And I get it. We hide our emotions and vulnerability behind those labels because this is how it works, and if it all goes well and we follow the rules, we might get or keep a job and get on with our career. We need to hide behind those rituals because we need to protect ourselves or else we could get hurt. Though nonviolent communication teaches us to avoid judgment, we do experience judgement in our academic journeys, don’t we?

Even when we do our best to follow the rules of ‘expertise’, this alone does not define our place in the academic ladder. We are not all equals, and we do not all have the same access and voice, no matter how much we pretend that it is ‘expertise’ alone that defines our relationships. Because, after all, despite all beautiful collaborations, institutions are still hierarchical and competitive, another face of broader structures of power in the capitalist system. And once we are in it it cannot but be an individualized race.

I think that we could all use some more peace, starting from how we interact among ourselves. If we really want to build peace in society, connect, and have an impact for change, why not start from here? I am sure that there are structures of power that would make it difficult, so perhaps it is time for everyday resistance within academia, too.

Time has come to resist by changing the rules, by creating new spaces for social engagement. For example, we could take the dialogue elsewhere, where we do not need badges, expensive buffets, strictly scheduled conversations, or long-haul flights. We could build spaces within the academic environment where we recognize that we are whole people, and our progress is not just how many papers we publish. We could make a commitment to communicating nonviolently and avoid judgments. We could find a way to include diversity, even without forcing ‘others’ to follow the structures that we have created. We could make more space to just be human and find value in practices and relationships that go beyond institutional rewards and recognition. More space for love.

I am sure that this is already happening around the world. Through The Everyday Peace Initiative we are seek to put these ideas into practice and connect scholars and communities to share our diverse knowledge. Every story matters. If you have an experience to share or want to start connecting, drop your email below and stay in touch or learn more about The Everyday Peace Community.

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