Peacebuilder Podcast: “Re-friending My Body” with Katie Mansfield

Katie Mansfield is the featured guest of the eighth episode of the Peacebuilder podcast. Mansfield, lead trainer of the Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience (STAR) program at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP), speaks about her path to STAR from working in multinational banking during 9/11, polyvagal theory, and her dissertation work on embodied trauma healing.

The podcast is just one of the ways the center is celebrating its 25-year anniversary. Hosted by CJP executive assistant and anniversary celebration committee chair Patience Kamau MA ‘17, the 10-episode series features faculty and staff members reflecting on the history of CJP and their own peacebuilding work. A new episode drops every other week on the Peacebuilder website.

Mansfield, who was raised on Long Island, flew back to New York on September 8, 2011, to be close to her mother after her grandmother’s death. She lost friends in the terror attacks on September 11. 

“I was physically present with both a sense of fear and powerlessness that I had not, until that point, experienced in my body before,” Mansfield says. A few years later, she quit her job and began learning about different ways of seeing the world from a family in India – a peace education teacher; his wife, a human rights lawyer; and his mother, the first female high court justice in the country.

During “time around their table, they were just removing dirt from my eyes,” Mansfield says. When she returned to the States, she worked with the organization Peace Games alongside school children grappling with neighborhood violence and interpersonal conflict. Her mentor there suggested she pursue further education in peace studies. 

Mansfield went on to study under John Paul Lederach at the Kroc Institute at Notre Dame, who suggested she take a class in restorative justice at the program he helped found – CJP. After finishing her master’s in international peace studies, she attended the Summer Peacebuilding Institute in 2009, which “made a very strong impression.” 

She recalls attending a STAR training in 2010, where she talked about her experiences on 9/11. Another attendee from Somalia told her, “Well, now you know how we feel every day.”

Mansfield’s doctoral dissertation, Re-friending My Body: Arts-based, embodied learning for restoring my entirety, in part draws on neuroscientist Stephen Porges’ polyvagal theory, which deals with the vagus nerve’s role in the embodiment of emotion and trauma.

“So many of us are learning the words, but not the embodiment,” Mansfield says. “Trauma and joy and life land on the body, and systems and structures, and how people respond to us is because of what’s happening in the nervous system. Do I feel safe in a situation in my body, or do I feel endangered?”

In researching for her dissertation, Mansfield was confronted with the power and privilege she’s experienced in her own life, and their effects on how she interacts with others. Similarly, she sees one of CJP’s core challenges now, at its 25th anniversary, as overcoming a tradition of “helpers and healers” going from a privileged and safe position to help others in less privileged situations.

“That model is a holdover from colonial mindsets, and it is not fully respectful of the incredible resilience, capacity, wisdom, power, healthy power that exists in all of these communities that some people are trying to go help,” Mansfield says.