Avila Now

March 13, 2018

Avila University Selects 2018 Activist-in-Residence

To further the mission of changing the world through learning, understanding and inspiring nonviolent action, the Buchanan Initiative for Peace and Nonviolence at Avila University will host its second Activist-in-Residence during the fall semester 2018.

Ms. Draga “Dasha” Gajić from Bosnia-Herzegovina, will spend approximately eight weeks on the Avila campus engaging with students, speaking at seminars and participating in the 6th Annual Greater Kansas City Peacebuilding and Nonviolence Conference.

“Recruiting for applicants began last November through social media as well as through e-mail distribution lists to universities and peacebuilding organizations all over the world,” said Arica Maurer, coordinator for the Buchanan Initiative. “We had an outstanding group of applicants this year, so it was very difficult for us to make a decision. All of our finalists would have brought something different to the table, but we ultimately based our decision on how much our students would benefit from the presence of the candidate given the current needs of our campus.

Gajić was chosen out of 37 qualified applicants, which represented every continent except Antarctica. Finalists were selected based on their grassroots activist experiences such as their experience organizing events, workshops, conferences and demonstrations.

“We determined that Dasha’s combination of experience in the arts, education, and working with women and children with disabilities presented the most opportunities for Avila. She will be a great resource for students and professors of the arts, education, and social work alike,” Maurer said.

Gajić was born in Yugoslavia and grew up in the war that plagued the Balkans throughout the 1990s. She now works to promote peace in post-conflict Bosnia-Herzegovina, a nation with complex ethno-religious dynamics between Sunni Muslim Bosniaks, Roman Catholic Croats, and Eastern Orthodox Christian Serbs.

Since 2016, Gajić has been the Executive Director of a non-profit called Udruženje za kulturu, afirmaciju i savjetovanje (Organization for Culture, Affirmation, and Counseling), and is an intern for Democracy and Human Rights at High School Tehnoloska skola, Banja Luka.

In addition to her peace activism, Gajić is an artist, educator, speaker and author. She holds two master’s degrees, one in gender studies from the University of Banja Luka and the other in political science from the University of Novi Sad. Gajić specializes in using art as a tool for promoting peace as well as empowering activists with disabilities, particularly deaf women and girls.

Maurer looks forward to Gajić’s stay on the Avila campus. “Given our country’s current social and political climate, I think it is important for our students to hear Dasha’s story of growing up in a war defined by ethnic and ideological differences. She has personally experienced the violence that can be borne out of hatred for ‘the other.'” Furthermore, peacebuilding in a post-war context like the Balkans presents unique challenges, the lessons from which I think our community can learn.”

“I am excited for our students to meet Dasha because she is a great example of how a relatively young, seemingly ordinary person can be an activist and effect change in their community,” Maurer said.

The goal of the Activist-in-Residence program is to inform the Avila campus and wider community of peace and nonviolence issues from a global perspective. “We want to inspire students and others to become more involved in nonviolent social activism by interacting with and learning from an international peace activist,” Maurer said.

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