Goshen College students Jeff Stoesz and Caleb Mechem won two of the three prizes in the Cheyney Ryan Peace and Conflict Studies Essay Contest.

Joe Liechty, professor of peace, justice and conflict studies, assigned the essay as an alternative assignment to a book review. It was the first year that Goshen College students participated in the contest.

Although Joe was hoping to sweep all three contest prizes, he said, “choosing Jeff and Caleb's essays does the judges credit, because the essays are both excellent but take very different approaches to the essay topic.”

“A key part of our identity is based on the groups to which we belong,” the topic of the essay contest reads. “We also see how our national, ethnic, or religious identities can be the source of much destructive conflict.” The challenge that Stoesz and Mechem answered so well was, “How do we reconcile this dilemma?”

Stoesz chose to write about the racial divisions within society. He opposed the idea that groups reflect a “unified totality.” Instead, Stoesz stressed the importance of recognizing the multiplicity within groups. When doing this, “we move closer to concepts of group identity that empower and comfort more than they marginalize and oppress.”

Mechem wrote about how storytelling is an important part of every group, regardless of size: from major cultural groups to small families. And by sharing parts of the past, Mechem said that it’s “an effective way for the two groups to relate to each other.”

Although problems aren’t directly solved by storytelling, it “allows those involved to recognize each other as relatable human beings,” Mechem said.

The winners of the essay contest each won $500. Mechem said that the prize money will be used to pay for groceries and rent. This summer, Stoesz will be traveling to Senegal for Study Service Term, and the prize money will help finance a trip to Ethiopia afterwards.