Experienced international peace activists Jens and Spee Braun concluded their two-week visit to campus last Friday after a packed schedule of classroom visits and public events. The couple came to Haverford on February 18 through the Friends in Residence program, which strives to encourage reflection on the school’s Quaker roots and ideals by bringing distinguished Quakers to campus.
“We’ve been all over the world, and we do have some crazy stories,” said Spee, the grand niece of former Haverford philosophy professor Rufus M. Jones, “so we’ve been telling a lot of those stories that we hope will get people thinking and help them be bold and courageous.”
The now-married couple met shortly after graduating college while teaching at the Ramallah Friends School, a private school run by American Quakers located in the West Bank. Both Jens and Spee then completed master’s degrees in international affairs at John Hopkins University, and traveled to Gaza, Costa Rica and Nicaragua while working for Save the Children, an international organization that promotes children’s rights in developing countries.
After returning to the United States, the pair relocated to Connecticut, where they did part-time projects for local non-profits while raising and educating their three children. This grew into a home-schooling cooperative formed with other Quaker families from the Braun’s Quaker meeting, morphing eventually into the Connecticut Friends School. This school in turn led to what would eventually become the Quaker Intentional Village-Canaan (QIV-C), a sustainable, agriculturally-minded community of households in East Chatham, New York in 2000.
“We began to think, with a number of other folks, about what would we do to re-engineer our lives and what would be the major concepts that we would want to focus on,” explained Jens.
The community’s goals include striving to live in unity with the earth, and to include joy and creativity in one’s life, but pursuing these goals has proved a challenge. For example, sharing laundry machines reduces environmental strain, but increases strain on families with children.
From these tight circumstances emerged Jens and Spee’s guiding principle, “Safety Fourth.” A play on the maxim, “Safety First,” the idea behind this principle is that there are things worth prioritizing before one’s safety. For the Brauns, this includes the spiritual realm, family and community, and finding the goodness and beauty that the world has to offer.
“Playgrounds – go to the highest place, practice balance, practice learning what your muscles can do, get a sense of who you are as a body,” Jens elaborated. “That’s more important than worrying about if you’re going to fall.”
While at Haverford, Jens and Spee shared their story with community members by teaching classes, visiting student groups, and meeting with members of the senior staff as well as individual students, in addition to hosting public events and workshops such as “Is Quakerism at Haverford a Myth?” and an Alternatives to Violence Basic workshop.
“When we do get in one-on-one or one-on-two conversations with Haverford students, they have fabulous questions, but they also have great insight,” said Spee.
Jens agreed, and commended Haverford students for their commitment to self-governance.
“I have a sense of Haverford students being really taken by things like the Honor Code, and the ability to, have some control within the context of this large institution…some say, some voice in some of the issues that are going on, and that’s been a real pleasure to see,” said Jens.
Although their campus visit has come to a close, several Haverford students will have the opportunity to spend their spring break with Jens and Spee at the QIV-C, and experience living in a Quaker intentional community. According to Spee, this will range from learning what it means to take a chicken from “coop to soup,” as well as how to live peacefully with other people in a community.