By Ben Cooper
Members from multiple UMD communities and religious groups facilitated a discussion addressing peacebuilding in our social-media-driven society Thursday afternoon.
The “Peacebuilding in a New Age” event was hosted by 10 campus groups, including Maryland Hillel, MICA, the Memorial Chapel and the United Campus Ministry.
Attendees of the event were split into groups and assigned a popular social media platform — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and “Other” — to center their discussion around.
The event consisted primarily of small group discussions with questions to prompt interaction. This allowed people to more easily understand the experiences, feelings and opinions of those around them.
Each group had a facilitator to help guide attendees through the questions. Bryana Madison, a senior information systems and marketing major, was the facilitator for the Instagram group, and helped orchestrate conversations about questions such as “What role does social media play in your activism?”
“[Social media] highlights or showcases certain events that I didn’t know were happening that I might want to go out and join them — like the Women’s March,” said Madison.
Each group’s members were encouraged to share their experiences for each question, and in doing so the goal was to teach attendees to listen respectfully, but also engage with the content of what others were saying.
The discussion was preceded by a listening activity meant to prepare attendees for the small discussion groups.
Nicholas Schmitz, a sophomore government and politics major, was in the Facebook group and shared how the people at his table discussed how to combat Facebook’s argumentative reputation.
“We talked about how [Facebook] can turn into a toxic cesspool of people fighting with each other,” said Schmitz. “It’s important to put thought into what you’re sharing on Facebook and the kinds of articles that you’re sharing.”
Denise McHugh, the manager of the Memorial Chapel, hoped that attendees learned to understand social media’s influence as well as to be wary of unreliable sources or authors.
“[I hope people] think a little bit more deeply about the impact of social media on our lives and the ways they can use social media wisely,” said McHugh. “Several people at my table mentioned the importance of […] being discerning — ‘What is that account?’ and ‘Who is posting this?’”
The Rev. Holly Ulmer, a chaplain for the United Campus Ministry, expressed similar ideas about how students can respectfully engage with others over social media.
“Part of peacemaking is really helping people find a way to connect in a respectful way,” said Ulmer. “So much of our culture is a discord right now — we can’t even listen to each other.”
Ulmer said she is inspired by the peace that Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi promoted, which is one of the reasons she believes peacemaking over social media is an important topic to address.
She let attendees know that she is willing to continue discussing the topic over future meetings.