Amin Maalouf once said, “For it is often the way we look at other people that imprisons them within their own narrowest allegiances. And it is also the way that we look at them that may set them free.” This is the quote with which Celia Cook-Huffman closed the Peace Fellowship Lecture titled “Identity Matters” at Elizabethtown College.
Cook-Huffman is a professor of peace and conflict studies at Juniata College, the Associate Director of the Baker Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies and the Director of Bake Mediation Services.
On Oct. 17, Cook-Huffman gave the “Identity Matters” lecture about how to stop hate by understanding oneself and how identity works.
Cook-Huffman defined “in-groups” and “out-groups” for the audience as two polarized groups that defined society. The “in-groups” would define who and what would be known as a new societal norm while the “out-groups” contained those who did not fit into the “in-groups.”
People knew that they fit into an “in-group” through a few different stages. The first stage was realizing that they belonged in one of the groups, the second stage was realizing characteristics of the groups and how they fit into the group and the third stage was distinguishing groups from other groups, which could lead to a group hierarchy.
Each group had its own boundaries and lines that would provide an individual identity to the group.
The “in-groups” saw themselves as virtuous and the “out-group” as a threat, which would provide the society with a stark divide. The lecture continued with Cook-Huffman telling her audience to be “entrepreneurs of identity,” where individuals define how they see themselves and others and what they perceive as acceptable and not acceptable.
Oct. 18, Cook-Huffman gave her second lecture called “Conflict and Reconciliation: Identity Matters” in which she discussed Conduct Theory. This theory described how people disrupt stereotypes and open up possibilities for oppressed people to cross boundaries into potentially fair treatment.
She then brought up the “entrepreneurs of identity” idea again, mentioning that identities are conceptualized as products and projects.
When asked what the topic meant to her, Cook-Huffman responded that beginning in her college years and expanding to her dissertation and career, a lot of her work was trying to understand why people commit evil acts and treat others poorly. She hoped that the audiences received strategies and an understanding of their senses of self.
Photo by Nadia Mourtaj
She wanted to give knowledge to create change. A key point that she wanted readers of the paper to take in was that identity matters. It is key to understanding conflict, even internally, because identity components explain why it is so challenging to understand oneself.
At this lecture, the Eugene P. Clemens award was presented to the Etownian’s Editor-in-Chief junior Aileen Ida and junior Nadia Mourtaj. This award is named after emeritus professor of religious studies Eugene P. Clemens who was known to students who had him as a mentor. Charles Wilson, who facilitated the lecture and headed the board which chose the award recipient, called Clemens a genuinely “good teacher.”
Wilson highlighted that Clemens was at the College for 30 to 40 years through protests and was always helping people get through tough times.
Clemens attended the lecture, and he said that issues are always changing, but he always promoted peace and strong relationships. Clemens advised the peace group during his time at Etown and was part of a group of faculty that created the peace studies minor.
Clemens and Wilson described the process of choosing a recipient of this award as a committee of five people who read through various nominations made throughout September by fellow students, faculty and even people from the candidate’s hometowns.
This year, the scholarship received the highest amount of nominations in the past three years that it has been active, which made it a particularly difficult choice for the committee.