By Valerie Luu
The Religious Society of Friends, also known as Quakers, has historically been concerned with controversial human rights issues such as abolition, women’s suffrage, and rights for the mentally ill. UC Santa Cruz students have often aligned themselves with similar beliefs.
Recently they all got together to talk.
On Tuesday, Jan. 15, Quakers Active in the World, a campus-based Quaker organization, invited local Quakers John and Betty Devalcourt to speak about their experience as facilitators for the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP).
The event involved a family-style dinner followed by speakers who talked about their work with social activism. “We’re going to show how different people have been Quakers doing social justice and peace work in the world,” Gabriella Alaniz, the co-sponsor and co-coordinator for the group, said of the event.
The Devalcourts helped start AVP in New York in 1975 to help New York City prisoners and local Quakers work together to support former gang members and at-risk teens.
The California prison system adopted AVP after seeing the success of the program in a variety of other prisons, and the enthusiasm that the program generated between wardens and prisoners alike. At the event on Tuesday, the Devalcourts, both retired, spoke about their experience volunteering at prisons in Soledad and Salinas Valley.
Clarke Dixon-Moses, a Quaker representative on the University Interfaith Council, wanted to create a safe and nurturing place on campus for students to engage in the social issues and to think about how they can contribute in the world. “We want students to know that people of deep religious conviction exist, who are finding practical and effective ways to reach out towards their heart’s desire — greater harmony among humankind,” Dixon-Moses said.
“There is a real excitement and a renewing sort of energy that flows from this program. We thought it would be wonderful to share a little of it with students,” Dixon-Moses said.
Those who came to the event were able to experience some of the exercises that prisoners do during the AVP workshops, such as “Primo,” where prisoners made up positive nicknames, and “A Big Wind Blows,” a musical chairs-type of game that helps prisoners learn what they have in common.
Nathan Ellstrand, a third-year history and politics major, attended the event. “I think that the exercises themselves were the most interesting. You hear about these programs and that they change people but you don’t know what they do. It’s good to see in practice, and they’re not really complex things, just really fun ways to provoke people and get them out of their shell,” Ellstrand said.
As an atheist and chair of the Student Interfaith Council, Ellstrand thinks religion is fascinating because he feels it is similar to politics: it can divide people or bring them together. “Learning about the Quaker faith really can inspire people to do things … to see the world and [its] problems but learn how to fix them in productive and positive ways,” Ellstrand said.
Quakers Active in the World has scheduled three more events for the year, including an event featuring Sage Smith, a local woman affiliated with Quakers who will talk about her experience working with homeless teens in Santa Cruz.
_The next Quakers Active in the World will be on Feb. 12 at 6:30 p.m. For more information, contact Gabriela Alaniz, Merrill Coordinator for Residential Education, at email@example.com._