In just two short days, 60 students walked the trails around the University of New Mexico handing out 300 stickers and 200 cards with positive affirming messages to complete strangers – not part of a class assignment – just a friendly gesture to let their peers know that they are not alone in everything they do.
âI managed to be there,â Gabrielle Rodriguez said. “I was excited about the walk and the meaning it had, so when we walked I felt in it, like I made a difference in someone’s day.”
âAs my students once said in class, ‘We are Lobos and when you are in a pack you never walk alone.’â – Heidi Ricci, UNM C&J instructor
Rodriguez is one of 60 students in the conflict management course of UNM communication and journalism teacher Heidi Ricci. Each semester, Ricci has his students watch a TED talk presented by Professor William Ury of Harvard University, one of the world’s foremost experts in negotiation and mediation. There he discusses what he calls the Abrahamic Initiative; a walk that simulates the legendary walk of Abraham that took place in biblical times. Ury and his colleague Josh Weiss created the initiative by saying in part, âThis journey from the womb to the grave laid the groundwork for a visionary and hopeful project: the development of hiking trails took place. relating to the travels of Abraham and his family in Mesopotamia, who shared hospitality with the people they met along the way. “
âHe talks about conflict and that when people are face to face conflict is easy, but when we walk side by side, in an open space, it’s a lot harder to have,â Ricci said. âYou walk together, creating a community. “
Ricci says that between his two classes, the students decided to walk around the main campus of UNM on their own; a program that would allow them to engage with their peers, relay positive messages and impart the skills they learn in an undergraduate conflict management course. The students created an original design for the stickers and cards and planned a walk in order to show the other Lobos that Yesu AD NOTnot Alonely, or “YANA”.
So, for two consecutive days last month, Ricci’s students flooded the campus.
âYANA means not to be alone and to have a space to be surrounded by others where you are comforted, accepted and appreciated,â said Siena Magana.
Ricci says that at the start of the semester, she realized how many of her students were struggling, not only with the regular riggers of college life, but also the added ramifications of isolation last year. She said Ury’s TED Talk really resonated with them.
âWalking was for us as a class to feel more connected, but we also wanted to walk with purpose. And that purpose was to show “hospitality” as we heard about in Ury’s Ted Talk, “Ricci said.
Ricci has been a professional mediator for over 15 years in the state of New Mexico, constantly reminding her students of the benefit and importance of using conflict management and mediation skills. Here at UNM, she has been teaching conflict management for six years and says the walk is just the start of something new at UNM – a peer mediation program.
âEveryone wants to feel heard, but very few people do. Everyone wants to be seen, and yet so many students don’t. Especially with the isolation of the pandemic. I want our students to feel empowered to manage their conflicts or, in the case of my peer mediation program, to know that they can get help from trained peers to solve their problems, âsaid Ricci. âFrom day one, I teach my students that conflict is an opportunity for change. But it’s what we do in a conflict that determines whether or not it will be a change for the better.
Ricci says she plans to hold a YANA walk every semester.
âI hope it will only exceed 60 students,â she said. âAs my students once said in class, ‘We are Lobos and when you are in a pack you never walk alone.’â