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In memory and honor of CONTACT founder Dr. Paula Green
February 22nd, 2022 | SIT Graduate Institute
"Social change emerges slowly and invisibly, yet the new is always fermenting within the old."
SIT and World Learning mourn the passing of Dr. Paula Green, a peacemaker, an innovator, a friend. As founder of SIT’s Conflict Transformation Across Cultures (CONTACT) summer peacebuilding program, she has touched the lives of thousands of people worldwide.
Paula started teaching at SIT in 1995, coming to the school with a background in humanistic psychology and intergroup relations. Within two years, she had founded CONTACT, an annual residential program on SIT’s campus for aspiring peacebuilders from around the world. During the first year of CONTACT, there were 10 participants; by the third year, there were 60 to 70 participants each June on the SIT campus ranging in age from 20s to 70s.
“Paula leaves a rich legacy of teaching and writing that will continue to inspire social change for years to come,” said SIT President Dr. Sophia Howlett.
The CONTACT program continues under Dr. Bruce Dayton, who recalls: “Paula described CONTACT as a place where participants found family where they had expected to find enemies, a haven for deep healing from the wounds of war and the assaults of injustice, an opportunity to stretch their boundaries, an ability to accept and embrace a vast diversity of human experiences, and a means of learning with and through each other that could truly be categorized as transformative.”
Over the years, CONTACT programming expanded to Ghana, South Africa, East Africa, and South Asia. Through 2016, these programs directly touched the lives of hundreds of individuals from dozens of countries. That impact rippled out to touch tens of thousands of people worldwide as CONTACT participants developed lifelong friendships with each other. They continue to bridge divides, overcome differences, and create an international community that supports and nurtures peacebuilding.
Paula retired from SIT in 2016, when she was awarded the rank of professor emerita. The Paula Green Peace Leaders Scholarship Fund was started several years later to honor Paula's work by supporting CONTACT participants.*
She remained active in international peacebuilding work, visiting multiple countries and engaging with communities in conflict to help them find constructive avenues for problem-solving. She continued to engage with the many friends and students she made over the years.
Reacting to growing polarization in the United States, in 2017 Paula co-founded Hands Across the Hills, an intense program for dialogue and cultural exchange between a progressive community in western Massachusetts and a conservative community in eastern Kentucky.
In a 2019 story about the program, The New York Times wrote, “Dr. Green applied a basic rule of psychology: Once people feel heard, their dignity had been acknowledged and the facts of their lives taken seriously, it is easier to take on harder topics like politics.”
Paula also continued to engage with the CONTACT community. As a pandemic gripped the world in 2020, she wrote in a letter to CONTACT alumni published on the SIT website, “Currently, the whole world is learning what we discovered in our weeks together in CONTACT.”
She continued: “I think we are called together to proclaim aloud our interdependence, to give up on the illusion that we are separate. This is the time to care for one another, to remember that compassion strengthens the immune system, that our human needs are universal, and that our generosity is a gift that ripples out and returns to the giver.”
Another essay published the same year in The Hampshire Gazette reflects Paula’s extraordinary ability to draw meaning and hope from challenge: “The climate crisis, appalling inequality, the destruction of our earthly home and its flora and fauna, are all powerful evidence that our ways of organizing society are dangerously outmoded. Social change emerges slowly and invisibly, yet the new is always fermenting within the old.”
SIT and World Learning extend our condolences to Paula’s family and to all those throughout the world who, whether or not they know her name, have been and will be touched by Paula’s wisdom, vision, and strength.
*To support the Paula Green Peace Leaders Scholarship Fund, go to graduate.sit.edu/home/donate/ and specify "Paula Green Fund" under designation.