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URI students "sentenced" to a life of nonviolence
KINGSTON, R.I. -- January 6, 2004 -- As University of Rhode Island freshman Chris Pagliarini of Cranston drove out of the Ryan Center, he pushed the pedal to the metal. Within minutes, the URI student saw the flashing lights that signaled a speeding ticket. Angela Kelley, another URI freshman, was traveling on Route 108 in Wakefield when she got pulled over for going 40 in a 25 m.p.h. zone.
Both students knew they would end up in traffic court, but neither imagined that their speeding infractions would put them on a road to a nonviolent education.
Sgt. Linda Palazzo, a campus patrol leader at URI who holds a training certificate from the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies, steers URI students and other youthful offenders from the neighboring communities to learning about the history and practice of nonviolence. As URIs prosecution officer for the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal, Palazzo attends court at the Oliver Stedman Center in Wakefield. If a judge substitutes community service for a steep fine, Palazzo swings into action.
Approaching youthful traffic violators in the hallway, Palazzo suggests an alternative to community service: 15 hours of nonviolence training.
"I saw this as a perfect opportunity to offer them the lifelong skills of nonviolence," says Palazzo who lives in Coventry and voluntarily teaches the course with help from her mentor and trainer Bernard LaFayette, distinguished scholar-in-residence who directs URIs nonviolence center, and Jonathan Lewis, a URI alumnus trained in nonviolence.
"One of the things I teach is that we all carry emotional baggage which creates conflict within ourselves," Palazzo said. "When we take heavy baggage and sit behind the wheel, we can and often do drive aggressively."
One of Palazzos students made the connection to his reckless driving. "I just had a fight with my girlfriend before I got in the car" he recalled.
Pagliarini and Kelley, like many URI students, chose the training because it was more convenient since the course is taught on campus.
"I never thought about nonviolence, so I didnt know what to expect, but now I realize its part of everyday life," says Kelley who plans to team up with Palazzo on other nonviolence projects.
Kelley employed her new training when she went home to North Stonington, Conn. for Thanksgiving. "I know my mom doesnt approve of my pierced nose. So when I went home, I put a clear stud in instead of the rhinestone because it was less noticeable. Im very comfortable with my pierced nose but since I know it bothers my mother, I wore a clear stud out of respect for her," the URI student says, noting that her mother didnt even mention the piercing during the visit.
"The course gave me a wider perspective, " says Pagliarini who says he finds himself taking more time to think about consequences when making decisions. "I never thought about not wanting to go to the class. Im a history major so I particularly liked learning more about Martin Luther King Jr. The time just flew by," he says, noting that he has recommended the class to two friends.
There are generally a dozen people in Palazzos classes, which in addition to traffic violators often include interested community members, police and security officers, and students sanctioned by URIs judicial system for incidents involving violence and aggression who are recommended by URIs Office of Student Life.
"I never ask why someone is in the class," says Palazzo who has trained trainers in various settings including Medillin, Colombia and the Rhode Island Training School. "It makes no difference to me."
In fact, Palazzo says the training can be more effective with people who are skeptical and dont expect much. It emphasizes a tenet of nonviolence training: doubt your first impression.
"When I first came to URI, I met a student with dyed hair cut in a mohawk who walked with a swagger. After I got to know him, he told me that he wore his hair that way because he had a back brace and grew tired of everyone staring at his back. "He told me that this way, no one ever noticed the brace," Palazzo said.