Vassar's first Tanenbaum Peace Fellows learn firsthand in Cambodia, India, and Jordan

POUGHKEEPSIE, NY – Experiential learning, religious dialogue, and social justice were central to the lives of three Vassar College students this past summer, thanks to the college’s new Tanenbaum Peace Fellows Program.

Annually, a group of Tanenbaum Peace Fellows will spend the summer abroad working for a religious or secular organization that advances peace and justice, in a part of the world where religious identity is central to both conflict and conflict resolution. For 2008, Vassar senior Christina Perry, and juniors Karina Costa and Daniel Ming, traveled to India, Cambodia, and Jordan respectively, supported by grants from $2,700 to $3,600.

The Tanenbaum Peace Fellows Program is established in memory of Sidonie Bennett. The program has been made possible thanks to a gift to Vassar College from Sidonie Bennett's daughter, alumna Dr. Georgette F. Bennett, President and Founder of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, via the Polonsky Foundation.

“The misuse of religion is the greatest threat to peace in the world today,” said Dr. Bennett. “By giving college students exposure to grassroots religious peacemakers and interreligious engagement, we are investing in creating a cadre of peacemakers who can make religion part of the solution to conflict, instead of religion so often being its cause.”

Rev. Samuel Speers, the college’s Director of Religious and Spiritual Life, added, "To comprehend many of the world's problems, our future leaders need to be able to understand the nuances of belief systems.  The Peace Fellows program is an ideal fit with Vassar's mission to  
educate students to see into the lives of others, which includes their interactions with changing religious dynamics in the world.”


In Mumbai, India, Christina Perry (Exeter, New Hampshire) worked with Communalism Combat, and its Khoj project to create unbiased textbooks and update high school social science and history curricula. Mumbai school authorities have found that while they consciously maintain a plural, diverse, and secular school atmosphere, sharp prejudices still surface among children when bouts of violence break out in the adult world.”

Karina Costa (Hoboken, New Jersey) worked in Cambodia with the Quaker-based American Friends Service Committee, and its Integrated Sustainable Livelihoods program, which supports communities recovering from war and promotes conflict resolution. Cambodia continues to suffer from the almost complete destruction of its societal, institutional and physical infrastructures during Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime of 1975 to 1979.  ”I  worked in an area recovering from religious persecution,” Costa said.

Working with the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center, Daniel Ming (Victoria, British Columbia) taught art and photography to provide young people a means of expression. Ming, who has created an independent major at Vassar in Peace and Conflict Studies, particularly encouraged younger children to use visual media to express their feelings on religion and politics.


Rabbi Rena Blumenthal, the college’s Assistant Director of Religious and Spiritual Life, chaired the fellows selection committee, which also included sociology professor William Hoynes, English professor Judy Nichols, and political science professors Steve Rock and Timothy  
Longman. “We had outstanding applicants this first year, and it was difficult for the committee to choose just these three fellows," noted Speers.

Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.

Posted by Office of Communications Thursday, October 23, 2008