As winners of the 2018 Peace Scholars program, junior Samson Mettler and sophomore Manaal Ali will travel to Norway this summer where they will study dialogue, democracy and human rights. Throughout the program, they both hope to learn how to promote peace and help others both locally and globally.
What are you most looking forward to about the Peace Scholars trip?
Mettler: “I think getting to know Manaal, because I don’t know her very well, but everything she’s done is amazing and I’m really excited to know her more. And just to spend time in Norway and learn as much as I can while I’m there.”
Ali: “I’m looking forward to having real in-depth conversations, because we can do that in South Dakota, but it’s a different ball game when you are talking with people that are coming from a variety of places and have a variety of experiences. I don’t think we have that to that degree here in Sioux Falls, so I’m just looking forward to sharing those experiences, learning more about them, and just becoming a more worldly individual.”
Which current or past influential figure do you admire and why?
Mettler: “[Augustana’s theatre professor] Jayna Fitzsimmons… As a professor, she puts out a paper at the beginning of class saying, ‘Give me your pronouns, your preferred name, any problems you have in the classroom. If you have problems with hearing I can do subtitles.’ It’s just genuinely like she wants to make your learning experience as good as possible, and she does it in simple ways.”
Ali: “I think it’s really important to see how people who are in difficult situations build themselves up and become influential people and help others become better themselves, and I think Malcolm X was a great example of that. Also, he’s Muslim and he had a lot of conflicts that I resonate with in different ways, and that’s why I look up to him: because he dealt with everything and he overcame it and he got a lot of things done. And people don’t really regard him as a hero. They look to Martin Luther King Jr, so I think I also kind of look to him as an underdog who actually did good work.”
What issues are you passionate about regarding peace?
Mettler: “Trans rights and pretty much any minority group or person who is discriminated against, I want to learn what I can do to help them, because a lot of times America does not do anything to help them. And I want to do what I can as a white trans male to help further their rights and just help people live better.”
Ali: “Combating Islamophobia because it’s a big thing to me, religion. Islam is a big part of my life, and I really attribute it to everything that I’ve gone through. The person that I’ve become—it just shapes who I am.
I want people to just find the same peace and the same justice within the religion. And to have individuals persecuted because of that, because of their religion, I find it sad and hurtful. So I want to help lift them up from that situation and to just educate people to not make ignorant choices and actions and say all those things.”
What do you hope to take away from the Peace Scholars Program this summer?
Mettler: “I hope to learn context. Since I’ve grown up in Sioux Falls, S.D. I’d like to go somewhere else and learn what they’ve done to create peace. Norway was one of the first countries that created legislature to protect LGBTQ+ rights, so it’s a really great place to go to learn what they’ve done to further our rights and what we can do to do that.”
Ali: “Just how to deal with individuals and instances where people say something and you feel like firing back but you shouldn’t. How do I speak to people in a way that is calm and peaceful and actually gets somewhere? In our current political environment, we’re not talking in a way that gets us forward, it’s just pushing us back. So how do I talk to people that I fundamentally disagree with, and fundamentally think that I’m a terrorist? How do I get past that?”
In what ways will this program apply to your future career aspirations?
Mettler: “I want to work in a theater with kids with emotional behavior disorders, so I think just learning what I can do to create peace in simple ways. And in big ways, because I also want to be a trans rights advocate, so I’m hoping this will apply to me. Just learning more mass-scale ways to create peace, because right now I’ve been working at Augie level and if I can make it more broad—the more the better.”
Ali: “I was pre-med, and now I’m looking more towards like law or policy-making, something in government. I think with the Peace Scholars program, I’ll learn how to talk with individuals, how to conflict-manage everything that I deal with. And that deals with anything that I put into my law work, anything I do in politics, and it’ll just shape me to understand different situations better and to respond to them appropriately.”
What organizations are you involved in on campus?
Mettler: “I’m Vice President of GSA, which is the Gender Sexuality Alliance, which helps create legislature within Augustana to help the queer community exist better. And then I also do some talks at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival which is a theater festival kind of thing, and we do queer roundtables to talk about problems in our fields that the queer community faces. I help out with Augie Access as well sometimes because I’m a Special Education major.”
Ali: “I’m part of International Club. I’m their secretary. I’m part of Better-Together, co-president. I was part of the Interfaith Reflection room board, so I do stuff with interfaith. Diversity and Inclusion board, Muslim Students Association: I’m founder and co-president. And I’m probably missing something, but I just started an organization called HAPPY: Healthy Accessible Prevention and Protection for You which we’re hoping to provide free sanitary products to female individuals or just any individual on campus.”
How do you promote peace in your everyday life here at Augustana?
Mettler: “A lot of times, within the queer community, on a conservative campus, they don’t know who they can be themselves around. So just creating a space where they can exist as their pure self is one of the main ways that I help people on campus.
And I help people understand their gender, because that’s a really hard thing to figure out, and college is usually when you find out about it, because you find out that you can be trans and it’s okay, so helping people go through that transition is a huge part of what I do, just helping people exist as their true selves.”
Ali: “I think with all the conversations that I have with a variety of individuals, especially being part of International Club. Talking to people from Guatemala or Panama or China, just getting them involved, I promote peace that way. And through the Interfaith room, I try to get individuals to understand that coming together as a community is what’s important and overcoming those differences.”
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