Give peace a chance, John Lennon once sang. Rhonda Swickert has been giving it a chance at the College of Charleston for more than five years now. The psychology professor and director of the College’s Mindfulness Initiative, along with Rachael McNamara, a health educator from the Counseling Center, started the Peace Initiative, a weeklong series of events that allows the campus community to explore issues related to peace, in 2018.

“The first year we explored forgiveness, last year we focused on promoting connection in a fragmented world,” she says. “We have mainly recruited people on campus to help us with the events and presentations, but we also invite people from outside of the College to share their expertise with us. We feel very fortunate that so many of our colleagues have contributed to the initiative over these past five years. It should also be said that the youngest members of our community have been contributing members from the start – the faculty, staff and students from the Early Childhood Development Center on campus, as well as Memminger Elementary.”

Rhonda Swickert

Rhonda Swickert

The College Today caught up with Swickert to talk about this year’s slate of events, which includes daily discussions such as “Cultivating Peace Through Immersion in Nature,” from Feb. 6-10, 2023.

What is the theme for this year?

This year’s theme is “Peace as a Pathway to Well-being.” This year’s focus is to promote peace within the self. We have all had a rough couple of years, so anything that can promote well-being is a good thing. People often think of peace as something that is good in theory but doesn’t really work in the rough-and-tumble real world. But peace can be a way to secure our own happiness, even when facing challenges that seem insurmountable (i.e., issues related to social justice, climate change, etc.). In fact, the people who are fighting for these things, which includes many people here on campus, need peace in their lives to stay healthy and well-balanced.

What do you hope to accomplish?

Our goal this year, just as it is every year, is to help our campus community as well as the larger community obtain peace. This is very much in line with a saying by the Dalai Lama: “Peace in the outer world is not possible until we have peace within ourselves.” So, in that sense, we all have an obligation to cultivate peace within ourselves, so that the world in general can be a more peaceful place for humans and non-human animals, alike.

What prompted you to start the Peace Initiative in 2018?

The work on the Peace Initiative started with a conversation within the Meditation Club. Rachael and I were advisors to the club back in 2017 (and still are today). We were talking with the club members about a march that a white supremacist group had proposed holding on campus. Of course, the College was against it, but the group was petitioning a state court to force the issue. We wanted to have a different narrative of what our campus supported, so the Peace Initiative was proposed as a week-long series of events and talks that promoted peace rather than aggression.

Our original mission statement proposed, “The Peace Initiative will facilitate a discussion of techniques that can be used to cultivate peace within the individual, community, and our society. As such, this information can help us to more effectively address the challenges that we are currently confronted by with regard to the social fragmentation in our society. If we can foster greater levels of understanding and unity with those who have differing views, then the problems that we face can be addressed by working together, rather than working against one another.”

Is the initiative having its intended effect?

I believe we are making a difference on campus and in our community. Attendees to all of our talks and events often say that it changes their perspective in how they view themselves and their commitment to peace. In doing so, I am hopeful that the events that we offer each year produce ripple effects across our campus and our community, leading to positive change in ourselves and our world.