Shippensburg University held an introductory training program for those interested in becoming a Silent Witness. Blaise Liffick, a Millersville University professor and the program’s Operations Director, led the ‘Facing the Hate: Peacekeeping on Campus with Silent Witness Peacekeepers Alliance’ presentation.
The program was organized and held in response to the appearance of antagonistic hate groups on campus. Stephanie Jirard, the SU Chief Diversity Officer, hosted the event this past Friday, along with guest speaker Liffick. Jirard opened the event by speaking to the students about the hate groups that had been on campus recently. In order to be ready for when these hate groups return, Girard organized the Silent Witness Training event.
Liffick represented the Silent Witness Peacekeepers Alliance, and introduced the group’s goals for peaceful protest responses. The Peacekeepers are to be a non-confrontational buffer between students and hate groups in an attempt to avoid violence and arrests at events, forming a “human spiritual firewall.” Their main goal is safety and comfort for the students on a campus, as Liffick stressed that these individuals are not counter-protestors and are not meant to challenge or muzzle these street-preachers. The organization has seen success on Millersville, Kutztown, Shippensburg and Johnson County Community College campuses and has over 1000 trained members.
Some detox techniques included counseling or debriefing with other peacekeepers, discussing the day’s events with a friend or loved one, or even taking a “purposeful shower.” Turning a seemingly menial task into a cleansing process can help to remove the “toxins” and stress of the day from people. He also encouraged having a meal with fellow silent witnesses after a long day of peacekeeping. “Just discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly,” Liffick said, “And always have food. Food is good.”
Students on campus are encouraged to get involved when hate groups come to campus. Students are urged to reach out to Jirard if they are interested in joining the alliance as a volunteer. The goal is to create a telephone tree to alert other students of the presence of hate groups, and seek to train other students to become peacekeepers. Liffick wants students to be ready for when these hate groups come back to campus, and wants students to be able to help anyone affected by the hate groups in any way they can.
Liffick sought to train the members of the audience with a few basic principles so they can respond to hate groups effectively and limit hostile atmospheres on campus. Liffick wants students to know the opposition, and urges students to “prepare for the worst, and hope for the best.” The emotional toll that these sorts of protestors can have on a student body’s mental health can not be ignored. Students are encouraged to prepare themselves beforehand by doing activities that can get themselves ready for the mental strain peacekeepers endure. Some activities can be listening to a certain song, preparing a mantra, or even engaging in spiritual practice.
Peacekeepers want to make sure events do not become sites for violence and riots and follow the Six Principles of Kingian Nonviolence after Dr. Martin Luther King. It is the goal of peacekeepers to provide nonviolent opposition to protestors or hate groups that seek to cause unrest in a social situation. Peacekeepers can do this by being there to help students, calm them down, and ensure violence does not arise. “They are trying to get a rise out of an impulsive age group,” Liffick said.
Liffick suggests performing a ‘Detox’ after attending an event. Liffick noted it was crucial to do this after being near hate groups for extended periods of time.