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International Peace and Security Can Be More Local Than It Seems

As an indecisive college student fueled by pressure to “find my calling,” and to find it fast, I’ve changed my major almost more times than I can count, one time even changing it just to try to get into a popular seminar everyone recommended would change my life. Unfortunately, I didn’t get in. Fortunately, one of the pivotal moments that helped shape my future passions and interests did not require me to finesse my way into an upperclassman seminar.

In the first semester of my sophomore year, our campus exploded with difficult conversations about social equity issues surrounding race, gender and other issues. These events, discussions, and arguments culminated into the March of Resilience, a show of solidarity of over 1,200 members of the community who united not to protest in anger, but rather to demonstrate a desire for a better campus community where all feel welcome. Listening and learning as a spectator from the women who organized the march, I was inspired to seek more connection between my academic and personal interests, just as they have taken their passion for these issues into their own academic work. I thought about why I was majoring in an engineering field, sitting in this course learning about differential equations and the laws of thermodynamics, and for what purpose I was collecting all this knowledge. Particularly, I wanted to ask myself how will I align these skills with my deeply personal desire to want to aid people, particularly the disadvantaged and marginalized.

The March of Resilience organized by women of color on campus.

Heavily influenced by international agreements like the Paris Climate talks and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, as well as other domestic events of the time (like the flint water crisis), I moved forward with my academic career wanting to find opportunities to use my engineering degree to work towards solutions to environmental problems and to strive for sustainability not just in the environmental sense but in all its facets, social, economic, political. While I enjoy scientific research, I also want to be an engineer who is also informed in the public policy surrounding my field, prompting my participation in a public policy program for engineers in DC.

Through the WISE program, I understood that there was so much that I wanted to learn within the policy sphere, but also so much more I wanted to do to become more engaged with the communities impacted by major policies. In my mind, if scientific advancement is for the people, then an understanding of their experiences and their needs is necessary. Nothing made that clearer as I participated in our school’s environmental coalition, learned from our student solar advocacy group and from a community tree-planting nonprofit.

Christina and her fellow WISE interns in front of the Supreme Court building after waiting for two hours at 5 AM to hear the decision and opinions of the Hawaii v. Trump case (addressing the Trump travel ban) and a California abortion case.

It was with the backdrop of these experiences that I began to define the extremely abstract concept of peace as something far more personal, far closer than what I originally envisioned. To sustain international peace, local peacebuilding within communities like my university is just as important in contributing to a sustainable environment. As I formulate my grasp of peace and security issues, I want to work to broaden the traditional understanding of national security to also include protection of people against the changing climate, against bigotry and racism, against domestic unrest and more. I hope that in the future, the term national security would not be used as a tool to incite fear of foreign threat, but rather be understood as the procurement of the peace and safety for all people, not just a select few.

Listening, learning and unlearning through my time at school has begun my journey to want to understand how peace is sustained in the communities I care about. I am excited to continue to learn through my fellowship at Natural Resources Defense Council using my technical background to analyze energy and environmental policies that put the safety and health of people first.

Christina Chen is a Spring 2019 Scoville Fellow with the Natural Resources Defense Council.