Students See Personal Examples of Peace and Justice at Peace Prize Forum

Forty-five Augustana students and four faculty members visited Minneapolis last weekend and others will travel there today for the second weekend of the Nobel Peace Prize Forum, set for March 7-9 at Augsburg College and the University of Minnesota West Bank.

The forum kicked off last weekend with a sold-out appearance by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, who captivated the audience at the Minneapolis Convention Center and online around the globe with his message of individual responsibility for peace.

Augustana junior Thomas Elness (Windom, Minn.) attended the speech, a keynote address in a day full of workshops on peace.

“The Nobel Peace Prize Forum opened my eyes to many new ideas about global peace and international interaction,” Elness said.

The Peace Prize Forum is an annual event that inspires students and other citizens to become active participants in peacemaking efforts around the world. For 26 years it has been the Norwegian Nobel Institute’s only such program or academic affiliation outside of Norway. This year it takes place on March 1 and March 7-9 in Minneapolis, coordinated by Augsburg College and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.

Ye Khaung Oo, an Augustana junior from Myanmar (Burma), called the Dalai Lama “fearless and peaceful.”

“Even though his people are brutally oppressed by Chinese government, he managed to hold no grudge against the Chinese,” he said. “That is a very impressive and authentic Buddhist attitude. I just wish that not only the so-called Buddhists in my country, Burma, but also every religion around the world could develop the same attitude against their enemies. The world would be much less filled with anger.”

The day began with the Dalai Lama’s appearance and ended with a second keynote address by Sister Helen Prejean, a leading American opponent of the death penalty whose book “Dead Man Walking” inspired the film of the same name.

Dr. Reynold Nesiba, Augustana economics professor, said Prejean is “a powerful voice for ending the death penalty.”

“During her talk on Saturday, not only did she point out how it fails as a deterrent, costs more than life in prison, and how it has led to innocents being killed, she explains how capital punishment harms those who participate in it,” Nesiba said. “Whether it is the prison guards, wardens, jury members, or executioners, all are personally and adversely affected by participating in state-sanctioned murder."

Augustana junior Aimée Fisher (Montgomery, Minn.) was among the 2014 Peace Scholars introduced at the Peace Prize Forum.

The Peace Scholars program is sponsored by a consortium of six colleges founded by Norwegian-American immigrants, including Augustana. Two students from each of the participating colleges are selected as Peace Scholars each year and are awarded a six-week educational experience in Oslo, Norway, designed to deepen their understanding of issues related to peace, justice, democracy, and human rights.

Fisher said the forum was all she had hoped it would be.

“When asked by an audience member to bless us, His Holiness the Dalai Lama said, ‘Our blessing must come from our own action.’ Hearing the stories of individuals who took action in their own communities brought me inspiration to begin my work creating dialogue through art,” said Fisher, an art and education double major. “Sharing our stories is the key to breaking down the barrier of ‘we’ and ‘they.’ This year's theme, ‘crossing boundaries to create common ground,’ is a source of empowerment and hope for our communities."