Interview with Isaac Beachy
Peace, Justice, & Conflict Studies
Human Rights Accompanier
GC Graduation Year
Why or how did you choose your field? Were there specific experiences that influenced you?
I was raised with and felt a personal connection to the principal of service, which is common among Mennonite communities. Although I would not use the term ‘service’ to describe what I am currently doing, I think the principle of service was the grounding for where I am today. Through a variety of experiences, conversations, studies and revelations, my early interest in service matured into a passion to be an integral part of the movements in the United States working for changes in the social fabric and economic and political structures in our nation and hemisphere, especially when concerning Latin America and done within a framework of solidarity. The experiences and conversations I had on short-term trips to Mexico, Nicaragua and Colombia were crucial in building my understanding of a hemispherical context of imperialism, how foreigners coming in ‘to help’ can easily be a part of a centuries old power play or at best completely ineffectual, and the type of work and strategy needed for real change. While these trips formed my political framework that led me to my current job, they also energized me in a way that I later realized is what people call “passion.” After graduating from Goshen, I looked for a job or volunteer position that shared my political framework and would put me in contact with work, themes, or people I was passionate about. So I don’t feel like I am committed to or involved in a ‘field’ so much as being involved in a movement that has many fields and foci that may, at times, pay me for my work and may, at times, not.
What’s exciting about your job or this field?
I’m right in the mix. Whether I’m meeting with military generals, talking about community dynamics with campesinos, at a U.N.H.C.R. report release, lobbying the U.S. embassy, or spending hours in strategy meetings with my teammates, I am right in the middle of pretty much all the dynamics that I studied in my peace and justice classes at Goshen. I’m also part of a small, fairly autonomous project within a larger organization. That has meant that five other people and I are the ones deciding how we will focus and carry out our work in Colombia. Also, because of the nature of our work, a part of our responsibilities is trust/relationship building with teammates and emotional support. This has meant that I feel a deep connection and trust, professionally and personally, with the people I work with. Thus, conversations are often powerful, interesting, and supportive. And, of course, it is always exciting when all our work results in precise concrete changes.
What has been a challenge in your career journey?
Working myself to death. I think burnout is always a factor in any work you feel very personally connected to while being up against immense powers. You often hear how important it is to take care of yourself, especially when your environment is violent and/or traumatic, but it’s hard to understand until you’ve actually burnt out.
Looking back, would you do anything differently?
Truth be told, if I knew then what I know now about myself and my interests, I don’t think I would have gone to Goshen. Goshen isn’t a bad place, and I am very grateful I went there, but in my junior and senior year I realized that what really got my goat was economic and development theory, and Goshen doesn’t have either of those majors. So, in hindsight, I think I would have started out studying the thing I’m most interested in, but I’m not sure anyone does that.
How did your liberal arts education assist you in your journey? Are there specific examples you can offer?
Besides the studies I did in my PJCS major I think the (albeit small) activist community that my liberal arts institution made space for has given me the most valuable tools and experiences that I have used outside of college. My participation in PAX club and the Black Student Union gave me a good introduction to some of the tools available to activists and familiarized me with strategizing for change. My experience with activism in PAX and the BSU was a crucial foundation to the work I am doing now.
Did anyone offer you some memorable advice that you’d like to pass on? Or…what advice would you give to a young person just starting out?
Don’t worry about your career. People spend way too much emotional energy trying to figure out what they are going to be or building their career. Just do what you want. Or, as that can be hard to define, do what you think you want. Wants change. So don’t try to plan for the rest of your life. Heck, don’t even plan for the next five years. Just plan for the next two years, or a year, or the next six months. After six months, if you like where you’re heading, you keep on heading that way. The same rule applies after twenty years. Go where your feet are pointing.
Also, sometimes the people you are working with are more important than the actual work you have in terms of how much you enjoy it. At first I was not sure about how thrilled I felt to be doing accompaniment work, but I decided to go for it when I met the people I would be working with and felt how I respected them and connected emotionally with them. It was a good choice. Although there are still some parts of accompaniment work I am not that passionate about, I absolutely love the work I have because of the people I am doing it with.