Denise Brown, Head of the Wellington College Peace and Conflict Institute, shares her thoughts on a year of reflection, discussion and active engagement.
Following our successful trip with Sandhurst School to Rwanda in February 2018, the WCPCI started the 2018-19 school year with a larger group coming to the Wednesday afternoon sessions to learn how genocidal conflicts grow in conditions of ignorance, indifference and denial; and how as individuals we can make a difference to the lives of others and our own society’s future by informing ourselves about power, privilege and propaganda, and by challenging intolerance when we see it.
Bad men need nothing more to compose their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.
(John Stewart Mill)
We studied how the ways people deal with conflicts around identity can be manipulated by bad actors to create toxic environments in institutions and societies, creating the conditions for hate crimes and, ultimately, genocide. Preparing for a planned return visit to Srebrenica, the site of Europe’s most recent (1995) genocide, we examined parallels between 1930s antisemitism and the all too many examples of contemporary hate-crimes committed against Jews, Muslims and Christians in their places of worship. After the Christchurch mosque shootings, we wrote letters of solidarity to the local mosque in Camberley; we were shocked when we went to deliver them to find it under police guard, but our letters opened a dialogue on which we are keen to build over the next school year.
In discussions about how the media can generate and magnify attitudes of intolerance, we examined how the press covers incidents of gender-based violence and homophobia as well as racism. Conversely, journalists who challenge public ignorance and apathy about the human suffering caused by conflict featured largely in our ‘role models for peace’ series, and the tragic murder of journalist Lyra McKee in April brought this home as we considered the possible consequences of Brexit for peace in Northern Ireland.
The politics of the global refugee crisis also featured largely last year. In the Michaelmas Term WCPCI pupils befriended Syrian refugee children living in Bracknell, inviting them to Wellington for regular help with their English and Maths, some art, and a game of football. More Wellingtonians wanted to get involved in practical work for refugees so, over the final weekend of term, 13 Wellingtonians and three teachers made the trip through Eurotunnel to volunteer for Care4Calais, working in the warehouse and going out to meet people in camps in Calais and Dunkirk. We were shocked by what we saw and heard there about the violence and political instability people are fleeing in their home countries; seeing the consequences of the UK government’s ‘hostile environment’ for ourselves filled us with resolve to spread the word at Wellington and other schools, to go and help, challenge all too familiar damaging narratives around immigration and use the privilege of our education and connections to act as advocates and friends for those suffering the effects of conflicts we hardly even hear about in the news.
“Bad men need nothing more to compose their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.”
John Stuart Mill