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Peace week promotional material
Image: University of Ottawa/Provided

Despite helpful events, name and purpose of the week has caused confusion in U of O community

From Sept. 28 to Oct. 2, the University of Ottawa hosted its 14th annual Peace Week. This year, festivities featured virtual events focusing on the wellbeing of stressed-out students. From psyches to pet therapy and at-home yoga, to mindful meditation and life hacks applicable to modern life (all of which were accessible from wherever one may access the internet) Peace Week featured a large variety of events.

“Many of our experiences are now mediated through computers, cellphones, and technology,” said U of O faculty of arts professor André Vellino. “Mindfulness involves paying attention to these experiences; not only being aware of your screen time but, also the information you ingest.”

Vellino, who was a presenter at last Thursday’s ‘Introduction to Mindful Meditation’ session, said Peace Week events such as mindful meditation can be “beneficial to everyone, especially with the great uncertainty we are experiencing right now [like] uncertainty about employment prospects and about the post-COVID world.” 

“[The pandemic] has multiplied anxieties, and with limited opportunity for interaction right now, mindfulness can center and stabilize consciousness.”

Sudipta Verma, a second-year public administration student at the U of O, attended Crystale Boisvert’s “life-hacks” presentation on Oct. 2 but admits it wasn’t exactly what she expected, though still beneficial in some ways.“[I] went in thinking, after reading the event description, that it was going to be more concrete life hacks—ones that make life easier; tips related to organization, communication, and keeping peace of mind in a fast-paced life,” she said in an email.  

However, a few tips during the presentation stuck out to Verma including Boisvert’s advice on how every word, action, and reaction a person does in the present can affect them in the future. Boisvert’s remark that people will only treat you how you allow them to, stuck with her the most she said.

“I will definitely be using [the tips]. I luckily do not get stressed or anxious often, but I can see myself referring to them to manage stress should I find myself in that situation,” Verma said. 

“I am always looking forward to living a more peaceful, balanced life while remaining productive.” 

Despite all of these positives, however, the usage of the word “peace” in the title has left some puzzled about the singular use of the word.

 “[Peace] means many, many different things,” said John Packer, associate law professor and director of U of O’s Human Rights Research and Education Centre (HRREC). “[Even] the field of conflict studies is a relatively new field, and it has struggled with its own definitions.”

He went on to cite Johan Galtung’s definitions of positive and negative peace—negative peace being the absence of war or armed conflict; positive peace being the management of a society’s inherent disputes to maintain peace through the construction of sustainable institutions and reconciliation of past wrongdoings.

“If the intention is to have the current focus and activities, then at least the English phraseology should be renamed to a health and wellbeing week,” said Packer.

“If the idea is to encompass peace in the terms that we’re talking about, some fashion of broader peace, then I would say keep the name and add some activities for peace on campus—Black Lives Matter, and other parts of our community who are not confident about the campus’ peace—we can look at how to have a more peaceful community in that sense.”

However, when discussing the University’s motive for Peace Week, Packer agrees that COVID-19 has created a “mass social down[fall]” as tensions and anxieties have worsened with the virus.

Yet despite the suggested lack of clarification, the event still embodies the idea of promoting peace from a law and order perspective. 

The idea behind Peace Week is also shared throughout Ottawa during the Ottawa Peace Festival which is hosted by the national collective, Canadian Peace Initiative (CPI). For the last 14 years, it has held events including at U of O and Saint Paul University on the topics of nonviolence, building peace through friendship, the UN International Day for Peace, and many more events related to a more external definition of peace.

“This year, the theme is ‘Shaping Peace Together’,” said Iman Ibrahim, the Ottawa co-chair of CPI and former executive director of the Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution. “We, in CPI, coordinate the promotion and calendar of events so that the final calendar provides a balanced attention to both internal and external peace.” 

The Peace Festival runs in other Canadian cities as well, all by the voluntary participation of civil society organizations. The festival’s objective is spreading awareness, capacity building, and mutual support for peace.

“Peace, internal and external, very much dependent on compassion and balance because these two foundations enable peace and order to prevail,” she said. “When we are out of balance in our body, mind, or heart, it impacts our thoughts, words, and actions and impacts the reality we individually create.”

“Due to COVID-19 this year, there has been a substantial decrease in the events everywhere and I’d like to share that U of O was among the first organizations who was eager to continue the celebration,” she said about U of O’s ‘Peace Week’.

Ibrahim went on to explain this may be the reasoning for U of O’s specific interpretation of the word “peace.”

“There’s flexibility for various organizations to choose their focus every year on one or both aspects of peace as they see best within their resources.”

Peace Week organizer Ariane Thibault elaborated on the University’s decision to shift towards promoting mental health and wellness as a priority focus throughout the events. 

“U of O has a strong focus on mental health and wellbeing at the moment, both topics being a top priority on campus”, said Thibault in an email to the Fulcrum. 

“The peace festival aims at creating a conversation on campus around the subject of peace. With the current limitations on in-person events it is shifting the way we organize these yearly [U of O] traditions,” continued Thibault.

“Knowing that mental health and wellness is a top priority for our entire community, last weeks’ virtual activities also focused on the subject of inner peace to help students, and other members of the uOttawa community, work on their wellness and inner peace.”