Unlikely conversation partners


Stu Erny

Stu Erny

This year’s Peace and Conflict Transformation (PACT) theme is “Conversations Across Borders.” We decided to tie the PACT theme into the campus theme because the idea of “Crossing Borders-Connecting Worlds” fits so naturally with the aims of the PACT program.

Indeed, the most powerful way to bring peace to a divided world is to commit to crossing borders and getting to know on a deeper level those previously known as “the enemy” or the “other side” or simply “those people.”

When we have dialogue across the dividing lines of religion, ideology, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socio-economics or gender, we learn each other’s stories. We hear about the life experiences that have shaped one another. We deepen understanding and empathy. We humanize the “other.” We learn about both significant differences and also about fundamental similarities, and the hope is that this leads to a deeper conviction that our lives are truly bound together. We begin to see that we, in fact, belong to each other, and that what affects one, affects all.

These conversations across borders belong at an institute of higher education. True education requires them.

If we only surround ourselves and dialogue with those who think, feel, believe and worship like we do, then we are severely limiting our education (and our humanity). To be truly educated is to converse with unlikely conversation partners. It is often in these conversations that our assumptions are challenged, where we are encouraged to dig deeper, to take another look, to reconsider our self, our neighbor, our world. This is when education transforms us and becomes a life-long adventure.

Conversations across borders can happen in many ways. I remember one such cross-border encounter that took place while I was in college.

I was volunteering regularly at our local Salvation Army, and in the process I got to know a young man (about my age) from Mexico who had made his way to Kentucky to work in the tobacco fields. In spite of my broken Spanish and his meager English, a friendship developed. I remember he invited me to his “home” (a rented room that he shared with several other migrant workers), and I returned the favor by inviting him to spend a weekend with me on campus in my dorm room.

After our friendship deepened and some trust was built, I remember him telling me that his real name was not what he had initially told me. I was shocked. I was even a bit offended. I was slow to understand why an honorable, hard-working young man would need to hide his real name, his true identity.

What I also know is that this conversation changed me. It opened me up to another reality, another human experience that challenged the way I thought about the world and my place in it.

The PACT program includes an academic minor available to all students as a complement to any major. The PACT minor is not limited to one department but is designed as an interdisciplinary engagement with the broad array of issues involved in peace and conflict transformation.

The PACT program also facilitates forums and other events for students, faculty and staff to explore and analyze the spiritual, moral, philosophical and political issues inherent in conflict and efforts for peacemaking.

Dr. Dan Allen and myself serve as the PACT Co-Coordinators. The PACT Student Coordinator is Kara Hadley, and she and Chance Lewandowski also coordinate the Student Peace Initiative, a student activism group which exists to promote peace through proper reflection and action.


Dr. Stu Erny lives with his family in Anderson, Ind. He is an AU graduate, and he teaches one course per semester in the Bible and Religion department. Apart from working with PACT, he is also in charge of campus ministries.