Stephanie Marie Knox Steiner, PhD

MAIN Photo / Foto Principal
NameStephanie Marie Knox Steiner, PhD
Affiliated Organizations

Assistant Professor, Peace and Conflict Studies, University for Peace
Caretaking Council Member, Earth Holder Community
Co-founder, Jill Knox Peace Through Humor Fellowship, Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor

Country of origin / País de origenUnited States
Country where you do your workCosta Rica
Please tell us about your work in peace education. / Cuéntenos sobre su trabajo en la educación para la paz.

I am currently the resident faculty for the peace education program at the University for Peace in Costa Rica, of which I am also an alumna. It is an honor and a joy to return to UPEACE in this capacity, as I deeply believe in the beauty and potential of this institution . It gives me great inspiration that a university dedicated to the teaching, study, and research of peace exists, and I am grateful that I have the chance to work and study here.

One of the biggest challenges I have encountered across my work is to be dreaming of other worlds - for to be a peace educator is to believe other worlds are possible - and yet to be living and working in this world, which is so deeply entrenched in a culture of violence. Peace education work necessitates that we are always confronting the challenges of this world, namely, to paraphrase the brilliant bell hooks, the white supremacist capitalist imperialist heteropatriarchy, and how it shows up in our organizations, institutions, and communities. As a white woman from the global North with the immense privileges this identity affords me, this means my peace education praxis must be  grounded in feminist anti-racist and decolonial praxis, with much humility. It is grounded in the understanding that to confront these systems, I will never be doing enough - there will always be more work to do - and yet to keep trying and giving my all, and to be willing to fail and learn from my mistakes. I further try to meet these challenges by leaning into my practices of personal peace and resilience, which include mindfulness, meditation, magic, dreaming, music, and taking refuge in nature, and by leaning into, building, and sustaining community.

Video description / descripción del video

This isn't a video, but rather a link to my peace education class playlist. Enjoy!

Start in the field & motivations / Inicio en este campo y motivaciones

I read Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Peace Is Every Step when I was an undergrad student (not for a class - recommended by my cousin). To say the book changed my life is a cliche, but it is also true, and after reading it I really wanted to dedicate my life as a work of art for peace, cultivating peace in everything I do. While the road from there has been windy and involved many different manifestations, it led me to the field of peace education where I found my vocational home.

What continues to motivate my work is knowing that other more peaceful, more just, more livable worlds are possible, and to continue reaching towards them even when I don’t quite yet know what they will look like. At the same time, I know those worlds already exist within this one, in our small acts of kindness, in mutual aid and caring for each other and the Earth, and I take solace, refuge, and inspiration in that knowing. Having recently found myself in middle age, I am motivated by younger generations, especially my 4 year old daughter. They deserve more livable worlds where they can thrive.

Significant Career Moments & Success Stories / Momentos significativos de tu carrera y historias de éxito

In our work, it is hard to define success. We plant seeds of peace in our students, and we may not ever see those seeds sprout, or may see them sprout a year or two or twenty down the lineOur work ripples out in myriad mysterious ways which we cannot always predict. I believe all we can do is do the best we can with as much integrity as possible, and leave the rest.

A small success has been running into students after they have finished a peace studies class, and having them tell me they miss the bell (the mindfulness bell I usually use to begin class with). To say they miss the bell, to me, means they understood perhaps the most important part of our class - our time of practicing inner peace and presence together. However, if they miss it, they may have missed the part that they can do this on their own! Yet I hope they will seek that out someday, in the ways that make sense and resonate for them (for there are infinite ways).

Another small success was watching a peace studies student deescalate, in real time, a conflict on campus. Students were protesting police brutality, and they had planned a campus walkout. During the walkout, some students started to graffiti walls inside the school, and a faculty member got angry and came out to yell at and confront the students (a case of someone in a position of power having a greater response to how anger was expressed than to the injustice itself). The peace studies student, who was one of the organizers of the protest, stepped up to speak with the faculty. She was able to calmly use deescalation techniques to communicate with the faculty member, diffuse the situation, promote understanding, and allow the protest to continue. It was a heated moment, the kind we prepare for, and to watch a student do this in real time was memorable. I can’t take credit for her skillfulness - it was all her, and she did a better job than I would have!- and yet I know that our study of nonviolence, nonviolent communication, and frequent deep listening practice, combined with the study of nonviolent movements, in some way helped prepare her for this moment so that she was able to meet it in such a profound and skillful way.

And while awards are just that, and our success is how our work impacts the world, it was a great honor when our Teachers Without Borders Peace Education Program received the Luxembourg Peace Education Prize in 2020. The program began in 2010, and for it to continue to ripple out in the world means a lot.

What keeps you going? / ¿Qué te hace seguir?

Meditation. Mother earth. Music. Magic. Moving my body in ways that heal and nourish me (which for me mostly means walking and yoga). A plant-based diet. Community, community, community.

In my new role at UPEACE, this has been a big question for me - how do I sustain myself in this work, particularly spiritually, physically, materially, energetically? How do I not burn myself out, which capitalism and academia will do on autopilot if you allow them?

My plan this year is to make my office an oasis and my home a sanctuary, as much as possible. I have started a ritual with a colleague to begin our days together with centering, some breathing, and clearing the space with incense or candles. I participate in campus yoga as often as I can and walk to work once a week. I am dedicated to fostering my well-being at and outside of work so that I am able to keep doing this work in a way that allows me, my students, and my daughter to thrive.

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