By Mark Lizano, Mar. 16, 2021
Cal Poly Pomona recently announced the appointment of history Professor Tara Sethia as the Shri Shantinath Endowed Chair of Ahimsa Studies in the College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences. It represents the culmination for the Ahimsa Center established in 2003, which has worked almost two decades to teach CPP students and the world about its core philosophies: compassion, peace and courage.
The idea for the center was conceived by Sethia in 2000, when she accepted a position as full-time faculty at CPP. She had a long-standing frustration with the way history was taught, with the focus primarily on violence. The goal of the program that she spearheaded, is to teach about nonviolence and how it applies on a personal, social scale and national scale.
“The role of nonviolence in college textbooks is almost nonexistent,” said Sethia. “History or historical change is usually explained by means of warfare, violent revolutions, bloodshed, and conflict.”
In order to reach a larger pool of students, an interdisciplinary minor in nonviolence studies was created. About eight to nine different departments participate with the center which united to foster understanding in the role and power of nonviolence studies.
The Ahimsa Center doesn’t just limit itself to the campus but has expanded to the community. The center is privately funded, meaning any stakeholder can support the center and its programs, including donors Prem and Sandhya Jain, Jasvant and Meera Modi and Bipin and Rekha Shah.
Dean Levine of CLASS has attended multiple events the program has held and believes strongly in the overall message of the center. From the moment she learned about the program she felt like it needed to be supported better in terms of spreading the message.
“I want to see it elevated on the campus, I want students to know more about this, I want faculty to know more about this, and I want our community partners to know more about this,” Levine said. “I think that we can be the rising star to help frame larger issues within this understanding.”
To teach philosophies and history of nonviolence, the Ahimsa Center has made it an emphasis to create teacher-leaders. The center launched a biannual fellowship program for U.S. K-12 teachers to apply.
For this fellowship, a two-week summer institute is held on campus where a team of experts works with participants through lectures, seminars and discussions. Over 200 teachers have been trained through this process. Participants receive credit for two graduate courses, as a result of participating in the two-week process.
Sierra Adams, a fifth-year liberal studies student with a minor in history and nonviolence, is a student who has took multiple courses teaching the core values of the Ahimsa Center. Adams hopes to be an elementary school teacher when she graduates.
“The Ahimsa Center does a lot of really good work, it’s something I would hope to pass down to all my younger cousins, nieces, nephews, possibly my future children,” Adams said. “It’s really a beautiful concept when you think about it. So many people resort to violence as their first thought because it’s what we’re taught at a young age.”
Sethia’s work continues to grow the amount of exposure for the center. Every event continues to spread the message of nonviolence and how it can change humanity.
“We have done a variety of events to engage people in the creation of a culture that is rooted in confession, empathy, forgiveness, love and friendship,” Sethia said. “Harming others is harming yourself and if people can internalize that I think we can have a cultural shift.”
For more information visit the Ahimsa Center website at https://www.cpp.edu/~ahimsacenter/ahimsa_about.shtml
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