How JUPS Changed My Life

3 Nov

by Margaux Nielsen

I fervently believe that everyone should take at least one Justice and Peace Studies (JUPS) class during their time at Georgetown. Full disclosure: I was peripherally involved in the recent formation of the JUPS major, so I may be a little biased. On the other hand, I took my first JUPS class on a whim, and it completely challenged and transformed the way I think – so I may be an example of how important and powerful JUPS can be.

JUPS provides you with a different lens—a different perspective on the world and its problems. Johan Galtung’s conflict triangle, depicting the interconnectedness of direct, structural, and cultural violence, is one of the most significant and foundational concepts in JUPS. In a nutshell, Galtung argues that violence exists in forms other than physical, direct violence. Cultural and structural violence are imbedded in the system, largely unseen but intensely felt. Cultural violence is the intolerance for people who “refuse” to learn English and the dearth of non-whites in media and popular culture. Structural violence is the state of our inner-city public schools and the way men and women assess a woman’s appearance and judge accordingly. These covert forms of violence surround us and influence the way we think and act. JUPS causes you to examine, if not outright challenge, their prevalence and influence in our lives.

Concepts like Galtung’s pushed me to reassess the world around me. And as I opened my eyes to subtle systems of oppression, I realized my place within them. I realized that as a white woman I experience privilege and oppression simultaneously. While I have the opportunities and social standing given to whites in a society structured by white supremacy, I also experience the invisibility and objectification faced by women in a patriarchal society. Both realities helped me to confront the white supremacy latent within me, a constantly ongoing process, and identify myself firmly as a feminist. I credit my life-changing personal growth to JUPS and to the people who teach and take its classes. Both the material itself and the intelligent people who digest it have confronted me with the oppression faced by people different from me and people like me, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Once JUPS introduced me to the idea that structural violence contributes to and sustains inequalities, I saw it all around me. Since my boyfriend and I have become a recognizable couple on campus, many men seem perplexed as to how to interact with me. It seems that if I can’t be treated as a sexual object, I can’t be treated as anything at all. And so, in many – especially male-dominated – social interactions, I stand next to my boyfriend invisible.

“Hi, I’m John.”

He extends his hand to my boyfriend, arm around my shoulder to the right of me. Then, a hesitation. I look directly at him, waiting for the expected, standard introduction. But he doesn’t look at me. Instead, his gaze clumsily stumbles to the ground until it turns to my friend Will.

“Hi, I’m John.”

He extends his hand to Will, to the left of me. Then, he walks away, without even a first glance at me.

I wish I could assure myself that it was an isolated incident, just social awkwardness or a harmless oversight. But it happens all the time. In groups where I am the only woman, I stand physically in the circle but socially outside of it. Conversation flows back and forth, but no one even looks at me, let alone speaks to me. I never realized how much I valued eye contact until I was denied it. Eye contact is so much more than a look; it is recognition, appreciation, respect, and humanity. When I stand in a group that looks at one another but never at me, I can’t help but feel inferior – like my voice and self are not even worth a listen or a glance. No matter how often I speak up or how many faces I defiantly stare into, my comments are dismissed and my looks ignored. Roughly around the fifth separate occasion that the members of these groups interact with me, I am begrudgingly admitted into the circle and bestowed with a glance every now and then or even an occasional chuckle at one of my remarks.

Unfortunately, most of my interactions with most men are tainted by the structural violence of patriarchy and sexism and their dehumanizing implications. JUPS prompted me not only to notice this behavior but also to understand it. Just as I have been raised with the ideology of white supremacy, men have been raised with the ideology of male superiority. Television, film, advertisements, teachers, mothers, fathers, and friends have, both explicitly and implicitly, taught them that women should be beautiful, thin, agreeable, quiet, and obedient. Even though most people would not deny that women can be plain, chubby, assertive, ambitious, and assertive, it is not what we should be or what we are expected to be. And so, women are treated like the one-dimensional objects that society depicts them as. If everyone always told you that dogs hate chicken, you would assume it was true, even as their eyes beg for the drumstick on your plate.

And so, I return to my most fervent belief: everyone should take a JUPS class. Black and white, rich and poor, SFS and MSB, men and women, and everyone that falls in between those stale dichotomies. Structural and cultural violence create both oppressors and oppressed, and we all need to work together to ensure that we are neither. Though the task is undeniably daunting on both a personal and societal level, we can and must apply the JUPS lens to collectively topple the violence that surrounds us and establish the stable, positive peace that each and every one of us deserves. So please, take that first JUPS class, whether it ends up being a random elective, a minor, or a major, I promise it will impact you for years to come. And I mean, pre-registration starts November 4th, so you can take that first step sooner rather than later.

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