Breaking Down Silos with PeaceTech

Emma KirkeThroughout my four years at Grebel, of the many hats I have worn, the one that has had the most impact has been as a PeaceTecher. You might wonder, what is a PeaceTecher?

In 2019, PeaceTech joined the roster of living-learning communities (LLC) across the University of Waterloo to foster a space where students in any faculty could gather and discuss the opportunities at the intersection of peacebuilding and technology. The members of the PeaceTech LLC, affectionately referred to as PeaceTechers, vary in disciplines of study. PeaceTech was the first LCC on campus to bring together students from different years and programs, a strength inherent in the intentional interdisciplinary and multi-year design of the Grebel community.

Arriving at Grebel as a transfer student, I found it difficult to integrate as a new student already in my second year of studies. But I have never felt this way in the PeaceTech space. Rather, we each come in with our own lived experiences and knowledge and a readiness to learn from each other.

Particularly through the two-and-a-half years of public health restrictions, I found my PeaceTech meetings to be a supportive anchor that connected me with guest speakers committed to their careers and peers who shared my hope for the possibility of contributing to a positive future. Amid the seemingly never-ending online classes, PeaceTech kept me grounded in my raison-d’être as a student at Waterloo.

In participating in PeaceTech, I have grown more aware of the inherent disconnections in our siloed higher education system that often limit opportunities for students to engage in subjects beyond their discipline of choice. In particular, some programs focus so intensely on technical skillbuilding that the social impact of what students are learning might never be discussed in the classroom. Yet, once graduates reach the workplace, they are expected to engage and collaborate with others who come from a range of disciplines and contrasting worldviews.

Building off what I was observing in the PeaceTech community, I co-founded the Sustainability Literacy Initiative to advocate for broader inclusion of sustainability education across disciplines at Waterloo. This fall, we hosted a blended conference to provide an opportunity for University of Waterloo affiliates and external stakeholders to discuss embedding sustainability education into the post-secondary curriculum.

PeaceTech helps break down the silos, continuing the bridgebuilding spirit that inspired Grebel’s design, with students from every faculty at Waterloo participating. By focusing on what unites us rather than what divides us, PeaceTech leaves its members with the gift of a shared sense of responsibility to be ambassadors for peace in our daily lives.

Regardless of how community members draw on their PeaceTech experience in their professional lives, I believe that this unique and valuable experience leaves each of us with the self-assuredness to engage critically and the desire to explore further beyond our disciplines. Most importantly, PeaceTech leaves its members uplifted with the hope that many around them are also committed to working together to expand peace in our world.