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PEACE program fosters inclusive campus culture

Published on December 06, 2021

PEACE program fosters inclusive campus culture

New program is driven by student leaders

PEACE Eastern Connecticut State University’s newly developed PEACE program -- Peer Educators Advocating for Campus Empowerment -- has spent the fall 2021 semester promoting inclusion and diversity on campus. Founded by the Arthur L. Johnson Unity Wing, the project started as a pilot in the spring 2021 semester. This fall, graduate intern Jessica Petry and 10 student leaders have been working with students and faculty.  

Promoting their work through tabling events in the Student Center, working with campus and community partners, and visiting first-year introductory (FYI) courses, the student leaders have developed workshops for topics such as healthy relationships, identity, culture and personal storytelling.  

PEACE coordinator Nancy Gonzalez, a senior majoring in Health Sciences.
PEACE coordinator Nancy Gonzalez, a senior majoring in health sciences.

Run primarily by students, the PEACE program includes a variety of tasks and roles. Nancy Gonzalez, a senior majoring in health sciences, works as the PEACE coordinator to develop and facilitate workshops. “We want to empower our campus in different ways and promote inclusion and a safe environment around the groups and individuals that we talk to,” said Gonzalez. “I have learned so much from this experience. We always look for new ideas on what PEACE can do to improve our campus culture.”  

The program has also allowed students to develop skills that apply to their major and future career. “I have been able to apply the skills I learned in PEACE and see my field of study in a new perspective that is more inclusive, self-aware, and is always looking to practice cultural humility,” said Gonzalez. “PEACE has been a big part of my Eastern experience and I am very excited that I have been able to be a part of it. I hope it will continue growing and including more members so we can all work together to make Eastern a better community.” 

Jared Rusconi and Jenna Gannon, co-leaders of PEACE, said they got involved in the program to improve campus culture. “I chose to get involved because I liked the mission of PEACE and what they planned to accomplish,” said Gannon, a junior majoring in secondary education. “I've wanted to join a group like this on campus.”

PEACE leader Jenna Gannon, a junior majoring in Secondary Education.
PEACE leader Jenna Gannon, a junior majoring in Secondary Education.

Rusconi, a first-year student majoring in psychology, said that the program’s mission to promote diversity resonated with him. “I wanted to get involved because I want to help promote positivity on campus and speak for the people who are struggling to get their voices heard. I aimed to get involved with something on campus, and I found that this would be the perfect fit because of the impact it has on the community and how the values that PEACE stands for are all things I would love to advocate for.”   

The PEACE program’s mission is to "move students from awareness to action. PEACE empowers the campus community around issues of diversity and justice while increasing empathy and understanding of one’s self and another.”  

Student PEACE educators have found themselves addressing these topics in FYI courses. Nicole-Kiyana Smith, an undeclared sophomore student, said that fostering communication with first-year students is crucial. 

“Establishing a safe and friendly environment is also essential if we want people to feel comfortable in sharing their ideas or stories. We do this by ensuring that we will not bring their stories outside that space.” Smith continued by saying, “My work in PEACE translates to my education here at Eastern because it has helped me sharpen my public speaking skills, communication skills, a sense of understanding, and respect of individuals and their culture.” 

PEACE Social Media Lead  Aiyana Hardy, a junior majoring in English.
PEACE Social Media Lead Aiyana Hardy, a junior majoring in English.

Outside of the work being done in classrooms, the PEACE program has used social media to spread its ideas and projects. Aiyana Hardy, a junior majoring in English, has taken on the role of Social Media Lead. “Becoming the Social Media Lead for PEACE meant that I was going to be in charge of our online presence,” said Hardy. “I was in charge of creating posters for our events, creating our Introduction post, and working alongside other PEACE members who needed digital marketing assistance.” Hardy continued by saying, “PEACE is still fairly new and we are doing everything we can to contribute to its growth.” 

The PEACE program was first developed by Shandra Wilke, former graduate intern for the Women’s Center, who said she was motivated by “students expressing their interest in more comprehensive programs and workshops about issues affecting students.” 

As described in the program’s official statement, “Through the efforts of the Intercultural Center, Pride Center and Women’s Center we aim to connect with students interested in making a lasting difference in their community through increasing awareness and understanding around social and justice issues.”

The PEACE Program will continue into the spring 2022 semester, with student leaders currently generating ideas on how to spread and emphasize the ideas of diversity and inclusion.  

To apply to be a PEACE Program student leader, click here. For more information, contact Jessica Petry at or by phone 860-465-5510. 

Written by Molly Boucher