Episode 6 - Interview with Peace and Justice Institute Coordinator Rachel Allen
Rachel Allen, college professor, and peace connoisseur drops by the studio to discuss the origins of Valencia’s Peace and Justice Institute (PJI). Once a tiny seed of an idea, the institute has grown into a powerful vehicle for addressing social issues not only at the college but in the community as well.
PJI’s work is rooted in the Principles of How We Treat Each Other, a list of guiding practices that foster respect and community building. In times of conflict or frustration, the principles can be used as tools of reconciliation. Rachel’s work with the principles evolved from retreats she attended where Parker Palmer’s touchstones were used to encourage conciliatory acts such as turning to wonder and speaking your truth. Rachel knew that the inner work conducted at the retreat would have to be fundamental to the mission of PJI. Through the years, Rachel has discovered that the beauty of the principles is that it values all the ways we are different.
The principles are now firmly woven into Valencia’s culture. Faculty and staff are exposed to them as new hires. Departments request presentations to strengthen communication. Students learn about them through events, workshops and the New Student Experience course. Posters of the principles are even posted in many of the classrooms.
The goodwill of PJI and the principles have expanded beyond Valencia and into the community. The institute has facilitated training to city employees including police officers and firefighters because Orlando’s government leaders recognize the importance of treating each other with respect. This has given birth to a community that more and more speaks with a common language on matters of peace. This was very much on display during the aftermath of the Pulse tragedy when Orlando united against hate and violence.
Rachel recently fulfilled one of her lifelong dreams to meet President Jimmy Carter. She visited the Carter Center and heard from people that lead the work of peace and health throughout the world. Rachel’s admiration for President Carter and his teachings stem from his expression of love for everyone and his lessons of hospitality. The Declaration of Human Rights, drafted in 1948, was also a topic of discussion during her visit. President Carter believes this document is more important than ever—and so does Rachel. The Declaration of Human Rights will be the focus of PJI’s Peace Week which will take place either in late January or early July.
Rachel Allen’s Biography
Rachel Allen is a life-long educator and practitioner who supports others to practice and educate for peace and justice in their work and personal lives. She brings thirty- three years of experience as a leader and educator at diverse institutions including Eagle’s Nest Foundation, Outward Bound, the University of Oregon and Valencia College. At Valencia College in Orlando, Florida, Rachel is a tenured Professor of Humanities and founding member and director of the Peace and Justice Institute.
Rachel holds an M. A. in theater from the University of Oregon and a B. S. in interdisciplinary studies from Northwestern University. In addition to her decades of teaching and facilitation experience, she has experience providing strategic planning and vision, program and curriculum design, fundraising and community-building practices. Rachel has studied with leading peacebuilders from Berkeley, Notre Dame, and Eastern Mennonite Universities is a certified Safe Zone advocate for the LGBTQ community and a National SEED Project Facilitator. Her community service includes work with the Coalition for the Homeless, Shepherd’s Hope, and Pine Hills Community Performing Arts Center. She serves on the board of ArtReach Orlando and is a member of the League of Women Voters. Rachel and her husband Willie Allen are the proud parents of two young children; they live in Maitland, Florida.
Links For more information on topics discussed during the show, see the list below.
PRINCIPLES FOR HOW WE TREAT EACH OTHER Our Practice of Respect and Community Building
1. Create a hospitable and accountable community. We all arrive in isolation and need the generosity of friendly welcomes. Bring all of yourself to the work in this community. Welcome others to this place and this work, and presume that you are welcomed as well. Hospitality is the essence of restoring community.
2. Listen deeply. Listen intently to what is said; listen to the feelings beneath the words. Strive to achieve a balance between listening and reflecting, speaking and acting.
3. Create an advice free zone. Replace advice with curiosity as we work together for peace and justice. Each of us is here to discover our own truths. We are not here to set someone else straight, to “fix” what we perceive as broken in another member of the group.
4. Practice asking honest and open questions. A great question is ambiguous, personal and provokes anxiety.
5. Give space for unpopular answers. Answer questions honestly even if the answer seems unpopular. Be present to listen not debate, correct or interpret.
6. Respect silence. Silence is a rare gift in our busy world. After someone has spoken, take time to reflect without immediately filling the space with words. This applies to the speaker, as well – be comfortable leaving your words to resound in the silence, without refining or elaborating on what you have said.
7. Suspend judgment. Set aside your judgments. By creating a space between judgments and reactions, we can listen to the other, and to ourselves, more fully.
8. Identify assumptions. Our assumptions are usually invisible to us, yet they undergird our worldview. By identifying our assumptions, we can then set them aside and open our viewpoints to greater possibilities.
9. Speak your truth. You are invited to say what is in your heart, trusting that your voice will be heard and your contribution respected. Own your truth by remembering to speak only for yourself. Using the first person “I” rather than “you” or “everyone” clearly communicates the personal nature of your expression.
10. When things get difficult, turn to wonder. If you find yourself disagreeing with another, becoming judgmental, or shutting down in defense, try turning to wonder: “I wonder what brought her to this place?” “I wonder what my reaction teaches me?” “I wonder what he’s feeling right now?”
11. Practice slowing down. Simply the speed of modern life can cause violent damage to the soul. By intentionally practicing slowing down we strengthen our ability to extend non-violence to others—and to ourselves.
12. All voices have value. Hold these moments when a person speaks as precious because these are the moments when a person is willing to stand for something, trust the group and offer something he or she sees as valuable.
13. Maintain confidentiality. Create a safe space by respecting the confidential nature and content of discussions held in the group. Allow what is said in the group to remain there.