In just two short days, 60 students walked the pathways around The University of New Mexico passing out 300 stickers and 200 cards with positive messages of affirmation to complete strangers – not part of a class assignment – just a friendly gesture to let their peers know they are not alone in anything they do.

“I accomplished being present,” Gabrielle Rodriguez said. “I was excited for the walk and the meaning it held so when we were walking, I felt in it, like I was making a difference in someone’s day.”

“As my students said in class one day, 'We are Lobos and when you are part of a pack, you never walk alone.'” - Heidi Ricci, UNM C&J instructor

Rodriguez is one of the 60 students in UNM Communication and Journalism Instructor Heidi Ricci’s Conflict Management course. Each semester Ricci has her students watch a TED Talk presented by Harvard University Professor William Ury, one of the world's leading experts on negotiation and mediation. In it, he discusses something he calls the Abrahamic Initiative; a walk that simulated Abraham’s legendary walk that took place in biblical times. Ury and colleague Josh Weiss created the initiative saying in part, “This journey, from womb to tomb, laid the foundation for a visionary and hopeful project: the development of walking trails approximating the travels of Abraham and his family in Mesopotamia, who shared hospitality with people they met along the way."

“He talks about conflict and that when people are face-to-face conflict is easy, but when we’re walking side-by-side, in an open space, it’s a lot harder to have,” Ricci said. “You’re walking together, creating community."

Ricci says between her two classes, students decided to lead a walk of their own on UNM’s main campus; one that would enable them to engage with their peers, relay positive messages and pass along skills they're learning in an undergraduate conflict management course. The students created an original design for the stickers and cards and planned a walk in an effort to show other Lobos that You Are Not Alone, or “YANA.”

So, for two days in a row last month, Ricci's students flooded campus.

“YANA means not being alone and to be provided the space to be around others where you are comforted, accepted and enjoyed,” Siena Magana said.

Ricci says early in the semester she realized how many of her students were struggling, not only with the regular riggers of college life but also the added ramifications from being isolated last year. She said Ury's TED Talk really resonated with them.

Conflict Med 3

“The walk was for us, as a class, to feel more connected, but we also wanted to walk with purpose. And that purpose was to show “hospitality” such as we heard about in Ury’s Ted Talk,” Ricci said.

Ricci was a professional mediator for more than 15 years with the State of New Mexico, constantly reiterating to her students the benefit and importance of utilizing conflict management and mediation skills. Here at UNM, she’s taught conflict management for six years and says the walk is just the start of something new at UNM – a peer mediation program.

“Everyone wants to feel heard, yet very few people do. Everyone wants to be seen, and yet so many students don’t. Especially with the isolation of the pandemic. I want our students to feel empowered to deal with their conflicts or in the case of my peer mediation program to know they can get help from trained peers to work through their issues,” Ricci said. “From day one, I teach my students that conflict is an opportunity for change. But it’s what we do within a conflict that determines whether or not it will be a change for the better.”

Ricci says she plans to host a YANA walk each semester.

“Hopefully grow it beyond just 60 students,” she said. “As my students said in class one day, 'We are Lobos and when you are part of a pack, you never walk alone.'”