Peace Studies Travels to New Orleans during January

Carly Greaves

A group of students had the extraordinary opportunity to help and understand others while also exploring the diverse and exciting city of New Orleans during a January Session trip.

PEAC 275: Peace Studies Practicum is a class that is often held in January that allows students to experience the work of peacekeepers firsthand by traveling to various locations. This past January, the class ventured to New Orleans, a vibrant, multicultural city in Louisiana. The class––taught by Dr. Katy Gray Brown, professor of philosophy and peace studies, and consisting of 10 students, one alumni and Caraline Feairheller, peace studies coordinator––spent a little over two weeks in the city, driving over 3,000 miles to get there.

However, the class did not have typical classwork. As a practicum, the course has a heavy emphasis on volunteer work. For this specific trip, the students worked with Capstone, a grassroots agency founded by David Young, a former resident of North Manchester. The non-profit organization is based in the Lower Ninth Ward, a neighborhood in New Orleans infamous for the damage it sustained during Hurricane Katrina, and focuses on urban agriculture, providing food for the inhabitants of the area.

Capstone is especially well-known for its honey, which it gathers from beehives and sells to support the agency’s efforts. The students assisted the organization by building a raised bed for blueberries, weeding, creating a sewer line for a house, and cleaning out the beehives. “They were sitting for so long that sometimes there would be roaches or bees still there or spiders even,” said Kayla Anderson, first-year, about cleaning the hives. “I’m not used to working with bugs, but I had to keep pushing to get the projects done.”

While the work kept them busy, the class did not spend their entire trip cleaning beehives. Students also visited various museums to learn about the history of New Orleans. Among these was the Whitney Plantation, a recreation of a Southern plantation that educates its visitors on the lives of slaves in Louisiana. The class also ventured to the Pointe-au-Chien tribal community outside of New Orleans, which has suffered a severe land loss due to climate change and rising waters. “They took us out on their boat into the gulf to show us exactly how much their land had changed in their lifetime,” Brown said. “It was pretty powerful to be there with them.”

Since it was the beginning of Carnival season, the class also went to some parades. One of these parades celebrated Joan of Arc, a Roman Catholic saint, and French heroine. The class explored the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden in the City Park and went to dinner at the Hare Krishna Temple. “It was an inviting atmosphere,” said Feairheller with regard to the temple. “You could see how involved it was in the community. It was really good at making people who had never been there before feel welcome.”

While the practicum was relatively short, it gave its pupils the hands-on experience that no textbook ever could. “Immersing ourselves in a learning experience like [this] allows us to learn things in a very different way, a deeper way,” Brown said. “These experiences allow us the opportunity to connect with people that we would otherwise never meet and come away with a better understanding of what some of the problems we face are and how many solutions we can find together.”

Anderson agreed that the class offered a unique educational experience. “You’ll definitely learn a lot and just enjoy being in New Orleans and learning about different things, tasting different foods and just partaking in a different culture,” she said. “It’s really eye-opening and fun."