Summer Interns Gracen & Melanie “One on One”

We’ve been lucky to have Gracen Eiland and Melanie Cooke with us at the Peace Center, as interns, this summer. Gracen and Melanie interviewed one another for this blog post! Read about them, and their experiences with the Richmond Peace Education Center, below…

Starting with the basics – school, hometown, major, go!
[G] – I’m Gracen! I’ll be a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University studying International Social Justice with a minor in French. I’m from Winchester, VA.
[M] – Hello! I’m Melanie, and I’m originally from Bel Air, MD. This fall, I’ll begin my senior year at the University of Richmond, where I study Psychology, Rhetoric & Communication Studies, and Spanish.

How long have you been involved with the Peace Center and what do you do?
[G] – I’ve been involved with RPEC since August 2014. I served as a paid work study student during the school year and then continued my involvement, as an intern, this summer.
[M] – I was only introduced to the Peace Center this past spring when Adria visited my War and Media rhetoric class to discuss the dominant ideology of patriotism and the Center’s role in challenging it. She opened my eyes to the life-changing work being done here, and I immediately wanted to be a part of it. Little did I know that I’d be so warmly welcomed into the RPEC family! As a summer intern, I get to dabble in every project/program RPEC has to offer. I spend most of my time maintaining the Peace Center’s communication outlets, including our website, Facebook, Instagram. Gracen and I also do a lot of community outreach to increase the Peace Center’s presence in Richmond. In May and early June, we assisted in planning/organizing our member dinner and the John McCutcheon Benefit Concert. Right now, I’m designing a curriculum about the cost of war to Virginians for our Global Peace Concerns committee.

What programs do you most enjoy being involved in?
[G] – Community outreach and event planning. I especially liked promoting and planning youth programs. I also also enjoyed designing handouts for our spring forum on the crisis in Iraq. Although I don’t have a creative bone in my body, I somehow wound up as the go-to graphic designer for RPEC event flyers (M – she’s actually really talented).
[M] – I can’t stop gushing about the conflict resolution training I attended in the beginning of July – it was incredible! I’ve only dipped my toes into the Richmond Youth Peace Project, but I’m so excited to help facilitate some of the youth conflict resolution workshops in the fall. I’ve also really enjoyed working with the Global Peace Concerns Committee: the dialogue about alternatives to militarism is what first brought me to the Peace Center, and I feel really lucky that I can contribute to this dialogue by helping to develop the “Cost of War” curriculum.

What have you learned from RPEC?
[G] – Within my major of international social justice, I have found that I mainly only learn about injustice—RPEC has filled that gap and shown me the social justice that I have been searching for. RPEC has introduced me to organizations, youth, and community leaders actively pursuing peace which has inspired me to continue working and studying. The Peace Center has taught me that sometimes the most meaningful thing that you can do towards social justice is create a space for dialogue and empower others to find their voice.
[M] – How much room do I have to write? I’ve learned that while the conflict, crime, injustice, and hatred that we’re so often exposed to (and, sometimes, desensitized to) in the news does exist, there also exists a greater force of good, and it takes the form of an interwoven web of grassroots non-profits, businesses, and community members. Compared to the injustices we witness and experience, it may seem like the peace movement is an underground one. But that’s okay, because everyone loves a good underdog story. Peace isn’t just an ideal here; it’s practiced, nurtured, and spread. You can not only see, but also be a part of, the changes peace cultivates if you know where/how to look. That’s what RPEC has taught me – where to look for opportunities for peace and how to act on them.

What is your favorite and least favorite memory?
[G] – My favorite experience with RPEC is when I had the opportunity to help the Richmond Youth Peace Project plan and organize an event against gun violence. The teenagers involved with RYPP are some of the most incredible and passionate people I have met and I feel really grateful to have been involved with their project.
Least Favorite- Manning the lit booth when it’s a million degrees outside. Melanie and I were sweaty, disgusting messes trying to talk to people about the great work that RPEC does.
[M] – Yes! That was the day our bodies literally melted at a farmer’s market. The market itself was phenomenal – the vendors/sponsors were kind and welcoming, and the fresh goods looked delicious – but the heat that day was unbearable. Our tent broke within five minutes of our arrival, and despite the kindred spirit who let us share hers, we were baking. Lesson learned – bring TWO tents and lots of ice cold water!
My favorite memory is a lot more difficult to choose…but I guess it’d have to be the day that we welcomed Syrup into our home. For those of you who don’t know, Syrup is our brand-spankin’-new all-purpose printer that traveled all the way from Canada (hence the name). If you’ve ever talked to RPEC staff or have tried to use the old printer, you’ll immediately understand why this was such a joyous occasion. There was lots of dancing and jumping involved, despite the looks of confusion from the UPS man who dropped it off.

Where to next?
[G] – I will be studying abroad in the south of France for the fall semester and then completing my final semester at VCU in the spring. I’m hoping to continue my studies and am looking into grad schools for social justice in the DC area.
[M] – As I finish up my last year at UR, I’ll be applying to graduate school and looking for jobs (I’m still not sure which route I want to take). I’m very interested in the learning, motivation, and behavior psychology programs at Stanford, UCLA, and UC-Berkeley.

What social justice activist inspires you?
[G] – Leymah Gbowee- a Liberian woman who helped end the civil war in her country through peaceful means.
[M] – Sophia Bush. In addition to working toward high-level, permeating change, she also hops down the hierarchy to share stories, struggles, and words of encouragement with the average janes and joes through social media.