By: Regina Shands Stoltzfus
Note: this article was originally published on Sojourners.
As a professor of peace, justice, and conflict studies at a small liberal arts college in the Midwest, I spend a lot of time talking about violence.
Early in the semester, I have my students complete a group exercise: They are given 21 sheets of paper, each sheet with an action on it, and instructions to create a continuum of these actions that span from least violent to most. These actions include kicking, starting rumors, leering, shooting someone, stabbing someone, writing graffiti, name-calling.
Typically, the exercise begins easily enough—shooting and stabbing quickly make their way to the “most violent” end of the continuum. But from there, the more diverse the identities and life experiences of the students, the more difficult the exercise becomes.
With that, a conversation emerges that carries over into the rest of the semester, as students each identify an aspect of violence that they will research. The question that undergirds their research, and the course itself, is, “What is the societal permission for this kind of violence?”
As a nation, we expressed horror at the vile act of violence in Orlando, Fla., nearly coinciding with the one-year anniversary of more violence in Charleston, S.C. We mourn and debate stricter gun laws. Yet we ignore steps on the continuum to violence that has made such shootings almost routine.
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