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Students champion peace in annual oratorical contest

Posted on April 14th, 2009

Seven EMU students spoke out for peace and justice in the annual C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest held Mar. 27 on campus. Each speaker applied the Christian peace position to a contemporary concern in an 8-10 minute public address of 1,500 or fewer words. Listen to the podcast of the contest.

EMU students Laura Cattell and Brianna Oelschlager
Laura Cattell (r.), first-place winner in the C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest with first runner-up Brianna Oelschlager. Absent: Second runner-up Barry Weixler-Landis.

Laura Cattell, a senior environmental science and justice, peace and conflict studies major from Honey Brook, Pa., won first place with her speech, “Structural Violence in the U.S. Education System.”

Brianna Oelschlager, a sophomore biochemistry major from Sellersville, Pa., was first runner-up with her speech, “Basic Needs as the Basis for Peace.”

Barry Weixler-Landis, a junior economics and justice, peace and conflict studies major from Harrisonburg, Va., was second runner-up with his speech, “Your Piece of Peace.”

Other contestants were: Nathan Kauffman, junior history and social science major, Goshen, Ind.; Grant Sprunger, junior business administration major, Dalton, Ohio; John Tyson, senior biblical studies major, Lansdale, Pa.; and Ethan Zook, senior biology and secondary education major, Harrisonburg, Va.

Winner addresses violence in education system

Ms. Cattell gave her award-winning speech in university chapel Friday, Apr. 3. (Click to listen to the podcast of ‘Structural Violence in the U.S. Education System’)

In describing structural violence, she presented a case study of two high schools in the Philadelphia area, one in a wealthy suburb and another in a nearby economically-distressed area in the city. As persons and organizations worked within the system for a more equitable distribution of resources and program funds, students’ performance in the lower-income school began to improve, she reported.

“If we are to do true peacebuilding, we must address structural violence,” Cattell said in her speech. “Service and individual change are needed, but without advocacy it is short-sighted. As Christians, we must continue to serve those around us, but must also embrace the role of advocacy in building a more just world.”

Cattell received a cash prize and entry in the bi-national competition with winners from other Mennonite-related colleges and universities in the United States and Canada.

2007 winner represented EMU nationally

EMU has participated in the event for the last seven out of eight years, with Nicholas L. (Nick) Stoddard winning the grand prize at the bi-national level in 2007 with his speech, “Connect the Dots.”

The contest was established in 1974 by the directors of the C. Henry Smith Trust as a way of honoring the late Mennonite historian who taught at Goshen (Ind.) College and Bluffton (Ohio) University. Smith is well-known for his numerous books on Mennonite history and his particular attention to the peace commitments of the Mennonite tradition.

It is administered annually by Peace and Justice Ministries of Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Students from every Mennonite and Brethren in Christ college in North America are eligible to participate. At EMU, the contest is sponsored by the departments of Bible and religion, language and literature and justice, peace and conflict studies.

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