Student advocates peace and pluralism with local and global initiatives
September 23, 2010
Throughout her time at Lewis & Clark, senior Samantha Stein has immersed herself in issues of cultural competency and conflict resolution on campus and abroad.
The sociology/anthropology major spent the summer in Tel Aviv, working with a United Nations program devoted to building peace in the Middle East by engaging all sectors of society in an inclusive consensus-building process. On top of her internship, she taught English language courses to Sudanese refugees during the evenings.
An advocate for international development and intercultural dialogue, Stein will continue her work on campus this fall in her role as a board member of the student-led Pluralism and Unity Project.
In the following interview, Stein shares her experiences abroad and discusses how her Lewis & Clark education has prepared her for leadership on the local and global scene.
Where are you from, and what drew you to Lewis & Clark?
I grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which is a similar environment to Portland in the sense that they are both socially progressive cities. When my college counselor recommended Lewis & Clark College, I quickly fell in love with its sense of community, environmental consciousness, and student activism.
What are you studying?
I am an anthropology major, but I have also focused a great deal of my course work around international affairs. I have a strong interest in conflict resolution, international development, and cross-cultural communication. I wrote my senior thesis in my junior year after receiving a SAAB grant to travel to Israel. I centered my research around the question, “How do bus drivers, as civil servants and targets of suicide bombings, perceive their own role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?” I conducted extensive semi-structured interviews with bus drivers and photographed the interiors of buses. I then wrote my thesis on Israeli identity formation and political communication through bumper stickers that bus drivers place on their buses.
This summer, you completed an internship in Israel with Interpeace, an organization connected to the United Nations. What inspired you to apply, and what was the focus of your work?
I applied because I wanted to get a closer look at how peacebuilding works in the field. The Interpeace program functions in several countries and works from within societies to lay the groundwork for peace. One obstacle to peacebuilding is that several sub-sectors exist within each society, and each has different geopolitical visions of the future. These visions need to converge before peace can be made between societies. Interpeace uses a participatory strategy, identifying influential leaders from every sub-sector of society and works with them to develop and provide educational programs and mediation courses that fit their needs. Working with Interpeace-Israel, I helped facilitate educational programs for different sectors of Israeli society, learned about mediation courses, and raised funds for the program.
How did your Lewis & Clark education prepare you for this internship?
My studies at Lewis & Clark have provided me with the proper tools to examine the social and cultural influences in other societies and to assess the different options for responding to societal needs. These skills have been vital to my internship with Interpeace, as I worked not only within a society other than my own, but also with varying sub-sectors of Israeli society.
What do you think is the most important lesson you took away from your work with Interpeace?
This internship taught me firsthand the importance of cultural competency in the application of international development. Identifying and empowering local leadership allows development practitioners to gain insight into the needs and problems that are not necessarily apparent to an outsider, and therefore to implement more informed and appropriate solutions. In addition, working through existing cultural models and key leadership allows development practitioners to gain confidence from the populations in which they work, which makes identifying and organizing effective collaborative partnerships possible.
Are you involved with any local groups focused on peacebuilding or the Israel-Palestine conflict?
I am involved in a number of on-campus activities aimed at increasing understanding between people of different backgrounds. I am on the Pluralism and Unity Board for the Office of Multicultural Affairs. The Pluralism and Unity Project is a new student-led initiative to create a culturally competent community. I encourage other students interested in increasing cross-cultural understanding and the exploration of multifaceted identities to apply to the board or suggest programming ideas!
I am also co-curating the Multicultural Symposium Art Show with Alyssa Ransbury and Benjamin Moseley. The theme of the symposium this year is, “And Justice for All.”
What are your plans after graduation?
This fall, I will start learning Arabic in preparation for my participation in Lewis & Clark’s first study abroad program to Morocco in the spring of 2011. During the summer after graduation, I plan to stay in Morocco and assist Professor Oren Kosansky with his National Endowment of Humanities grant titled, “Intellectual Property and International Collaboration in the Digital Humanities: the Moroccan Jewish Community Archives.” In the future, I plan to attend graduate school to study either anthropology or international development.