To Friends and colleagues everywhere: After a one-year hiatus resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, Friends Association for Higher Education held its 41st conference June 7-11, 2021 over Zoom on “Peacemaking in the Liberal Arts.” We have been invigorated by plenary sessions with George Lakey (author of How We Win: A Guide to Nonviolent Direct Action Campaigning and Facilitating Group Learning: Strategies for Success with Diverse Learners) and Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge (whose leadership has included terms as Deputy Minister of Defense and of Health for South Africa), 23 workshops, worship and other opportunities for community and emboldened with better understanding of the foundations and history of the Friends Peace Testimony and renewed commitment to supporting our student activists as campaigners for the loving community we seek. It is natural, Lakey explained, to fear and be repelled by the rising polarization around us. Polarization is an inevitable consequence of the extreme economic inequality and racial injustice of our society. Just as a forge makes metal malleable, so polarization provides the heat that drives societal transformation — for good (as with the Nordic countries in the early 20th century) or ill (Nazi Germany and fascist Italy in the same era). Since today’s polarization is inevitable, we must prepare to engage with it. Lakey’s plenary and other sessions — by providing us with a better understanding of historical peacemaking that emerges from close study of Quaker origins in the 17th century, case studies of Friends service committees in the 19th and 20th centuries, the 1960s Civil Rights campaign, and the dismantling of Apartheid in South Africa — gave us reasons for optimism. Oppression and injustice cry out for forceful action and offend a loving God. But, the slave master’s tools cannot break the master’s chains. Successful transformation depends on vision (prophetic witness), inspired strategy and the health of the change community. It may well be that the key gift to us from early Friends is less the reality of our unmediated access to continuing revelation than the acknowledgement of the inner struggle to be faithful to the seed of God within. Madlala-Routledge reminded us that the “search for Peace is always a collective effort. It starts with truth-telling, incorporates justice tinged with Mercy…and a lot of meeting with other fully-as-flawed human beings.” She gave us a careful accounting of the successes and continuing challenges of South Africa’s experience with Truth and Reconciliation. We learned in this and other sessions that true dialogue requires the voice, attention to and acknowledgement of the other. Carefully tended dialogue transforms conflict, leading to reconciliation and forgiveness. There was even the suggestion that dialogue paradigms might be the key to ensuring that machine-based artificial-intelligence technologies serve humane needs rather than stunting what it means to be human. When those administering or benefiting from oppression decline dialogue, we are called to other forms of nonviolent activism. George Lakey and others charged us as educators to support students in their growth as activists and politically engaged citizens. We learned that there is a place for many skills and roles in social movements: helpers, organizers, advocates and rebels. We learned of the ethical foundations and resulting efficacy of protest, noncooperation and nonviolent intervention in confronting injustice. We shared experiences and plans for specific programs on our campuses to promote global understanding, explore activist identities and promote Quaker leadership. This year’s conference hosted a Campus Executives Panel with the highest participation yet of any of our conferences with six colleges represented. The discussion addressed stresses and challenges in a time of pandemic, with a valuable sharing of perspectives and experiences by all participating. We talked about the challenges of using Quaker decision-making processes on campuses where most of the community members are not from the Religious Society of Friends. Other topics included finding a balance of collaboration opened up by Zoom while people also experience Zoom fatigue; exploring the possibility of deeper relationships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities as well as with Native Americans; recruiting Quaker faculty to the Quaker campuses as well as recruiting Quaker students; the challenge of maintaining integrity and continuity of tradition while dealing with marketplace forces; and perspectives on philanthropy. Because we met virtually, the campus executives were not able to share the traditional conversation with each other over a meal, but we hope that is remedied when we can meet again in-person. In leaving our conference, we stand ready to share with Friends and our colleagues in higher education a renewed sense of what Quaker education can contribute to transformational peacemaking. For that reason, the vitality of our Quaker colleges and study centers remains a central concern of FAHE. During FAHE’s annual meeting for business we accepted the invitation of Earlham College and Earlham School of Religion to gather in person in June 2022. Come join us in the continuation of this good work. With hope for our future work together, Stephen Potthoff and Donn Weinholtz, Co-Clerks Friends Association for Higher Education Epistle committee draft adopted June 11, 2021
This year’s FAHE Conference, “Peacemaking and the Liberal Arts,” has now concluded. Many thanks to all who participated for such a wonderful and inspiring week! We have now posted
the conference Epistle.
Have you been thinking about signing up to attend the FAHE online conference, June 7-11, 2021, but wanted more information first? Now you can see the full schedule to help you decide! Some highlights include:
A plenary session on Tuesday night by George Lakey on Gandhi and Early Quakers, with a follow-up workshop on Wednesday A plenary session Thursday morning by Nozizwe Routledge on lessons from the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission Hearing Quaker college presidents and provosts talk about the challenges they have faced through the pandemic A selection of presentations on Peacemaking and the Liberal Arts Times to gather informally with other Quaker academics Times for online Meetings for Worship, both programmed and unprogrammed
Please see the attached document for full details.