MA student Lauren O'Brien bridges academic experience with community work
Lauren O’Brien is a second year History MA student with a concentration in 20th Century U.S History, and a minor in Public History. This fall, she will attend Rutgers University to pursue her PhD in American Studies. Lauren shares how Loyola’s MA History Program prepared her for a position at Jane Addams Hull-House Museum.
How did you get involved with Jane Addams Hull-House Museum?
I’m a strong advocate for reading list-serv emails! During my first semester I received an email from our department about applying to the Cities of Peace program that was sponsored by the Jane Addams Hull House. I wanted to find a way to better bridge my academic experiences with my community work and felt that the program was the perfect way to do so. I made it to the final round of interviews, but ultimately was not selected as a fellow. Fortunately, the Education Manager instead offered me a position as a graduate intern in the Museum’s Education Department. In a matter of weeks, Hull House became another home for me as I quickly became immersed in the site’s history and the museums’ programming. Luckily, when my internship ended, I was offered a more permanent position as the Cities of Peace Education Program Assistant.
What is Cities of Peace?
Cities of Peace is an intergenerational initiative which connects the struggles of young people in Chicago and Phnom Penh, Cambodia as they organize to transform harm caused by state and interpersonal violence and create community healing. 2015 marked the fortieth anniversary of the Khmer Rouge genocide which took the lives of nearly one in four Cambodians. It was also the year that a group of Chicago activists organized under “We Charge Genocide” to petition the United Nations to recognize a global epidemic of police violence that disproportionately impacts young people of color, as well as queer, trans, and gender nonconforming youth from marginalized communities. Although young people in Chicago and Phnom Penh are separated by language, culture, and nearly 9,000 miles of Pacific Ocean, this program intends to illuminate their shared histories of state and interpersonal violence and generational trauma. Over the course of two years, youth participated in an international exchange through which Chicago Peace Fellows visited Cambodia in April 2015 and Cambodian Peace Fellows visited Chicago in July 2015. The exchange centered histories of state violence and community resistance featuring local historians, human rights advocates, legislators, community organizers, artists, as well as survivors of violence and trauma. The exchange culminated in a Youth Peace Summit through which young activists shared their experiences and presented a collective platform for international solidarity.
What is your job as facilitator?
Joining in the second year of the initiative, I worked in partnership with the Chicago Grassroots Curriculum Taskforce to develop a trauma-informed critical high school curriculum which includes original research, lesson plans, community organizing techniques, arts interventions, and interviews from program participants in Chicago and Cambodia. This curriculum was launched at the Teachers for Social Justice Curriculum Fair and will be distributed in print and digitally to local, national, and international educators and youth workers in partnership with the Cambodian Peace Institute and the International Sites of Conscience. Additionally, in partnership with local artists, activists, and scholars, I am facilitator of a series of teach-in’s which will utilize trauma-informed popular education methodology to educate and organize their peers around issues of state and interpersonal violence on the local and global scale. These teach-in’s will be facilitated at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, within Chicago Public Schools, and at a variety of cultural, historic, and organizing sites throughout the city.
Why did the Hull-House Museum decide to sponsor this program?
Jane Addams once said "True peace is not simply the absence of war." As the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize and A founder and president of the Women’s Peace Party, Addams empowered women across the U.S. – and eventually around the world with her demands to end World War. Yet for Addams, peace-making encompassed much more than protesting war. It meant listening to mothers who had lost their children to combat, and lending support to conscientious objectors. It included speaking up against racialized violence, and building playgrounds where neighbors could get to know each other. Just as Addams’ peace-building took multiple forms, it also enlisted all kinds of participants. Addams argued that peacebuilding should include and benefit women, low-wage workers, migrants, and people of color. Almost a century later however, these communities disproportionately face mass incarceration, police brutality, poverty, criminalization, deportation, and domestic violence. The Jane Addams Hull-House Museum (JAHHM) serves as a dynamic memorial to Jane Addams, her fellow reformers, and the migrant neighbors who struggled to organize, engage in cultural exchange, and impact national and international public policy. Cities of Peace utilizes JAHHM’s extensive experience in bringing diverse constituents from across the city into meaningful conversations that move towards action, expertise in thinking about peace broadly as well as within specific historical and cultural contexts.
What have you learned from the discussions?
One big takeaway for me is the role of history plays in violence against communities of color. By examining histories of colonization and genocide, we can recognize that not only are individual experiences of interpersonal violence silenced, but so are long histories of state-based violence towards communities of color. In this sense, history as a discipline can further inflict harm on communities of color, as these aspects of their history are unexplored or unacknowledged. It is imperative to recognize this cycle of trauma and seek ways to disrupt and prevent more harm so that history can be transformative and restorative for all. One way to attempt to make history more restorative is for the educator to create an intentional and trauma informed learning environment. Whether in the classroom or a museum, educators should attempt to establish a brave space that is welcomes and supports the diverse identities, experiences, and learning styles of all participants.
How has Loyola’s History Graduate MA Program benefited your experience at Hull House?
Graduate school has illuminated for me the politics and privilege within the writing, preservation, and dissemination of history. Within dominant narratives about the United States, the stories of marginalized individuals are often excluded, trivialized and at worst, undocumented. Even at Hull House, an institution that prides itself as a radical space of democracy that allowed women to transcend boundaries of race, class and gender, the experiences of communities of color are often excluded and overlooked. As a black woman, my historical practice and educational philosophies are inextricable to my identity. I take immense pride in my heritage and recognize the importance of positive representations of people of color in history, art, and higher education. I firmly believe that there is a correlation between the underrepresentation of students of color in history and the marginalization of people of color in cultural institutions and historical narratives. Therefore one of the greatest gifts Loyola has given me is the cultural capital to interrogate silences within exclusionary narratives and create platforms that highlight, document, and share the histories of marginalized communities.