Nobel Peace Laureate, Jody Williams, Visits Swarthmore College

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

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On Monday, September 28, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Jody Williams visited Swarthmore College to participate in a panel titled “Women in Peace and Conflict.” While at Swarthmore, she also visited Associate Professor of Sociology Lee Smithey’s Strategic Non-Violence Struggles class and discussed her experiences as an activist.

In 1992, Williams launched The International Campaign to Ban Landmines. As the head coordinator of the campaign, Williams worked with a large range of NGOs to successfully ban landmines in 1997. After becoming a Nobel Laureate, Williams founded the Nobel Women’s Initiative in 2006. Currently, Williams teaches at University of Houston and is one of the lead spokespeople for the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.

Monday night’s panel was well attended by professors, students and members of the larger Swarthmore community. In addition to Williams, Wendy E. Chmielewski, curator of the Swarthmore Peace Collection, and Marjorie Murphy, James C. Hormel Professor of Social Justice, spoke on the panel. The panelists discussed a wide range of issues including the roles of women as peacekeepers and diplomats, military spending, and stereotypes surrounding peace advocation.

One of the key topics in the panel was the recruitment of women to help during wartime due to the stereotype of “maternal instinct.” Williams listed the many problematic ideas involved with stereotypes like these surrounding women in peace and conflict.

“There’s the thought that we all have the maternal instinct, and I’m like, ‘Maybe! I never wanted children,’” Williams said.

Williams also addressed stereotypes that affect peace advocates in a more general way, stating that we need to destigmatize peace work.

“I think a lot of psychological work is done to desecrate peace,” said Williams. “When you think of the ‘peacenik,’ you think of the rainbow and the dove. […] You hear ‘Kumbaya My Lord,’ which is a lovely song, but is the rainbow the dove and ‘Kumbaya’ and other such songs, are those what peace is? Absolutely not. And by throwing out that symbol, […] you make people feel disempowered if they actually believe there is such a thing as sustainable peace that can be created.”

Shervin Malekzadeh, Professor of Political Science, was particularly interested in what Williams said about people’s perceptions of peace activists.

“The most important thing for me was the idea of cultural framing– how do you make the character of the peace activist a non-caricature,” said Malekzadeh.

Many Swarthmore students took the panel as an opportunity to find inspiration for their personal political efforts. When given the opportunity to ask questions, Nancy Yuan ’19 raised her hand to ask if Williams had any advice for aspiring peace activists. Williams advised students to remember that just talking about issues is not activism and that activism requires some sort of action. Audience members were particularly responsive to Williams’s lighthearted sense of humor and passion when discussing activism.

“Her vibrant expressions were half the ride,” said Mohammad Raza ’19.

Smithey spoke to the excitement of bringing a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate to the Swarthmore campus.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to have a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate on campus who has first hand knowledge of the kind of careful, long campaigning that is necessary for demilitarization,” Smithey said. “I was especially appreciative of the partnership between Jody Williams and Wendy Chmielewski that brought the historical legacy of women’s contributions into dialogue with Jody’s contemporary experience.”

When asked about her time at Swarthmore College, Williams said, “I have been really happy to come to Swarthmore. I think that young people today are really longing for a way to contribute to a better world. By example, I try to help them understand that anyone can participate in change. No one does it alone.”

Photographs by Lee Smithey.

Featured image courtesy of www.we.expo2015.org.

Celine Anderson

Celine Kaldas Anderson is a sophomore from Roanoke, Virginia. She has been a member of at least three failed bands but for some reason holds on to her timid dream of becoming a stand up comedy starlet. She writes the column, The Very Hungry Swattie. If you like food or need it to survive, check it out sometime!

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