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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Caught in the ACT: The Alternatives to Violence Project

<u’ve likely heard of it, seen posters for it around campus, but unless you’ve participated in a workshop, the “Alternatives to Violence” project is likely still a bit os a mystery. People have responded differently to the idea of a three-day long workshop exploring the topic of nonviolence - “Isn’t alternatives to violence just… not being violent?” a friend asked me. Others are more intrigued by the setting in which AVP has taken place—“It’s that a thing in prisons?” is a token response.

The Alternatives to Violence Project is certainly an unusual program in comparison to the other service opportunities overseen by the ACT center. It does not deal with tangible, direct volunteerism—farm gleaning, stocking the food shelf, giving cuts for cancer—nor is it an ongoing commitment such as work in the Northfield Hospital, or a weekly ESL tutoring session. Instead, the project entails committed, concentrated involvement in a comprehensive 3-day “Basic” workshop on non-violence (offered every term during midterm break) and, if one is inclined, an “Advanced” workshop and volunteer training session held in the Faribault prison. Started in 1975 by a group of inmates in the Green Haven Prison in New York, the program has come to be used worldwide to (as its mission states), “empower people to lead nonviolent lives through affirmation, respect for all, community building, cooperation, and trust.

But how do these ideals translate on the ground?

The idea, really, is simple. It’s setting aside time to get to know people intimately, to reflect on the experiences that have shaped our conception of identity and the values that play into the decisions that we make, interpersonally and otherwise. The project is based on the common-sense notion that connection and understanding come from the sharing of beliefs and experiences. AVP does this in a systematic, but flexible way: with a series of one-on-ones, group exercises, open discussions, brainstorms, games, storytelling, and evaluations. As someone who attended the workshop this past midterm break, I can speak to the value of simply sitting down to get to know someone. While speaking to a group of ones peers at Carleton does not bring to mind the illumination of radical and/or violent difference, there is something to be said for setting aside time amidst all the busy distractions of school to assess oneself and reconsider the way that we assert and affirm ourselves in relation to others.

It’s true that three days in a 10-week Carleton term is a lot of time.  But doing a “Basic Workshop” at Carleton is a stepping stone to being able to participate, and possibly facilitate, AVP workshops at the Faribault prison. At Carleton we have the privilege and opportunity to theorize, conjecture, speculate and deconstruct (within the classroom) the causes of violence: inequality, racism, sexism, etc.— and what they mean and look like. Here is a valuable opportunity to hear, learn from and share with a group of people who are not allowed voice, and a way to explore nonviolence and positive change as it manifests itself in daily life.

If you are interested in AVP, want to participate in the next session, or have any questions please contact Mahal Burr ([email protected]) or Lizbee Collins-Wildman ([email protected])

-Chisa Hughes on behalf of the ACT office.

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