My name is Jacob Ryder, and I am a second year EPGA student with a concentration in ethics of development and globalization. Studying at AU for me has been a true privilege. I am very thankful to the AU community for providing me with opportunities I never would have imagined. One of my earliest memories at AU is watching President Obama’s speech with other students at the Mary Gordon Center after the groundbreaking Iran Nuclear Treaty was announced. I realized then that AU was a special place, recognized globally for waging peace. I have grown to appreciate the opportunity to learn at AU more and more as I progress in my studies, as I meet students from around the globe with various life experiences and perceptions of the world. AU is truly a place where some of the brightest minds can come together in an open-minded forum to discuss current conflicts and issues of concern without bias or prejudice.
During my first semester at AU, I had the opportunity to attend the Peace and Justice Studies Association annual conference with several of my classmates from my Peace Paradigms class. At the conference I was exposed to the most dedicated and vigilant peace activists from around the world. As I attended discussions surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Black Lives Matter, structural violence in Rwanda, and preparing for a career in Peace Activism, I was blown away by the fervor with which the speakers spoke about active peace just as military leaders would talk about active conflict.
Over my first Winter Break I took the chance on participating in an Alternative Break trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil entitled Community Organizing in the Favelas. As a group of twelve students and one faculty advisor, we worked to learn about local community groups and activists fighting for basic services in the lower income favelas of Rio and against the government’s forced eviction of residents to make way for the Olympic Village. For the first time in my life I witnessed what it is like to live on the margins of society, feeling forgotten by your own government and alienated because of your socio-economic status and racial identification. It startled me to see how many people in the favela were forced to live in less than humane conditions only to be denied basic job opportunities and their children unable to attend school. I was so humbled by the hospitality displayed towards our group by not only the host family we stayed with at a local NGO in Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro called Ser Alzira de Aleluia but also by the entire Brazilian population. We were outsiders who do not have to experience their every-day struggles, but they welcomed us and thanked us for sympathizing with them in their struggle for a better life. It is difficult to accept children playing in the streets littered with garbage and bullet shell casings, but that is the way of life in Rio for the millions living in the city’s favelas.
In my academic work I have enjoyed focusing on transitional justice in countries working to end violent conflicts. Through my Environment, Peace and Conflict class I completed a group project on the Colombian Peace Process focusing on rural land reform as an instrument for peace. My group advocated for the return of rural lands to the millions of internally displaced people within Colombia and re-integrating many ex-combatants into society through an economy supported by primary goods and agricultural production, compared to private investment in natural resource extraction. This project was very satisfying as I took on the role of President Santos of Colombia and FARQ commander Tomochenko, as they worked through the peace process simultaneously. The peace process is so complicated and so many people have been affected in the last fifty years of civil war that it is such a landmark reform for the people of Colombia.
After graduation I aspire to work for USAID or a UN human rights advocacy group fighting to reduce poverty and prevent humanitarian disasters. I truly believe through my time in the Ethics, Peace and Global Affairs program I understand the importance of human rights as critical to the foundation of everything else that goes on in the world no matter what it may be. We must learn to appreciate our differences and exacerbate our similarities because at the end of the day our lives are becoming more and more intertwined.
My advice for first year students would be to enjoy the time you have at AU because it goes by fast and do not hesitate to reach outside of your comfort zone. Be confident in what you believe in and stand up for your beliefs, but do not dismiss others for forming their own beliefs. None of us is more right or wrong than the other. We all come from different backgrounds and our beliefs are grounded in different ways. I wish everyone at AU the absolute best of luck in all of their endeavors and fervently believe the Ethics, Peace and Global Affairs program will prepare us for a world full of difficult problems and unbounded possibilities.