Throughout the 2020 fall election season, if you drove through the intersection of Coffee Road and Rosedale Highway, you would often be met by different groups promoting their preferred presidential candidate. However, competition over who would occupy the corner of Coffee Road and Rosedale Highway began to evolve into very tense and sometimes violent altercations.

Videos demonstrating this tension soon “went viral,” and they went viral because they resonated. The intersection of Coffee Road and Rosedale Highway was simply one example of what is happening across our country, which we saw come to a head during the raid on our nation’s Capitol.

Now, many lawmakers are crying out for peace and unity, but what does that mean? What does peace look like?

Three years prior to the 2020 election, I sat in a classroom during my first week of graduate school for a class titled peacemaking and peacebuilding. On the first day, our professor wrote two words on the board: war and peace. He first asked us to shout ideas we associated with war. Students came up with “violence,” “weapons,” “destruction,” and so on. He then asked us to do the same for peace — and there was silence.

It’s apparent we are more familiar with what it takes to create conflict than we are with what it takes to create peace — sometimes we don’t even know how to define it. However, what I have learned from my time doing peace and development work around the world is that the definition of peace can vary from community to community, but community itself is the connecting factor of peace anywhere. Peace cannot be passively built in isolation. Peace can only happen in an intentional community.

So what does peace look like for our community? How do we start to define and build it here? I believe we start with our institutions because they play a large role in creating the circumstances that determine how well individuals can live equitable, just and peaceful lives. One example of these institutions is higher education.

Bakersfield College already does an excellent job of creating the circumstances for students to reach their greatest levels of success. Whether it be transferring to four-year institutions or finding jobs with family supporting wages. However, beyond removing barriers and creating the opportunities for individuals to live peaceful lives, peace also requires self reflective practice, empathy and the careful yet intentional pursuit of reconciliation through difficult conversations.

Therefore, over the next 18 months BC is going a step further and embarking on a Peace Initiative. This initiative includes the Peace Garden that will soon begin construction on BC’s campus, as well as a series of projects done in partnership with other community groups working toward peace. Finally, the Peace Initiative includes a seminar series designed to engage small groups of women, veterans, educators and police in conversations about what peace looks like here in Kern County and how we build it.

What we need now is you, the community, to join us. Therefore, we at Bakersfield College would like to invite you to the first installment of the Peace Initiative Seminar Series, titled, “Mothers for Peace.” The seminar will include a panel of young mothers discussing their experience raising children in a period of polarization, building peace at home and what a peaceful future looks like for their children. The seminar will be held from 4 to 5 p.m. March 30. Please visit https://www.bakersfieldcollege.edu/ for future details on how to attend this event as well as other events in this series.

We hope to see you there so we may start building a future we all want to be a part of.

Kara McDonald is a program manager for Student Success and Equity at Bakersfield College.