From Pacifism to Service Learning: How Peace Studies Began at UofL
by Russell Vandenbroucke
“You may think that the chemical and biological weapons I have described are outlawed by the Geneva Conventions. You’re right, they are. But the Senate never ratified the treaties so they don’t apply to us. We can have 'em. And we do.”
Then the drill sergeant at Ft. Benning, Georgia, released us from his after-dinner lecture that included graphic descriptions of the lethal effects of anthrax, botulism, mustard and nerve gas. I was in his platoon, a new member of ROTC, the Reserve Officer Training Corps. 1968 was the year of the Tet Offensive. It was the year US soldiers in Vietnam peaked at 536,000 and total deaths neared 37,000 as they marched grimly towards 58,220. That spring, Eugene McCarthy was garnering strong support in Democratic primaries as an anti-war candidate, and then President Johnson startled the nation by deciding not to seek reelection.
Even as the war was increasingly opposed on campuses and off, I accepted the certainty of being drafted at the end of my student deferment. If I had to go into the military, I reasoned blithely, better to do so as an officer. During the interview following my application, I was asked if I would go if ordered to Vietnam, I respond, “Yes.” I received the offer to join ROTC a few weeks later. I was nineteen.
Dr. King had been assassinated that April and Bobby Kennedy in June. As thousands of Americans demonstrated, then prepared to march in protest at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago that August, I marched across Army grounds for four weeks until being released after contracting a dread disease of privileged college students, mononucleosis. But before that, I had heard the drill sergeant’s descriptions of chemical and biological weapons and realized instinctively and deeply that I did not belong.
The next year, I watched the first draft lottery on television along with everyone else my age. The graduate student across the hall in the rooming house we shared had a television, which he invited me to watch. He was obese and likely to be classified 4F, "not acceptable" for service. His number in the 200s provided double protection from the draft. My winning number was 44. I marked it on a T-shirt, then wore it to class the next morning as if it were a football jersey. No one had to ask the meaning of the number. My sarcastic display belied my inner chagrin. I could no longer hope to head to grad school after graduating the following semester. Instead of waiting uncertainly for acceptance letters, I would wait equally uncertainly for word from my draft board: How would they rule on my application to be recognized as a conscientious objector?
Fr. Terence Fitzmaurice, himself a veteran, had written one of my six letters of support, and accompanied me to the hearing. My C.O. claim was largely based on the principal of double effect I had learned from him in a high school religion class back in a time when I was Catholic and possessed the gift of faith. Double effect pertains to actions that can have both morally good and bad consequences and invites weighing how these are intended, or not, and also how likely the good consequences are as opposed to the bad ones. I argued that war always had bad consequences and only might have good ones; both sides could not be equally right in their cause and equally successful in achieving it. Fr. Terence's presence as a character witness to my sincerity as well as an influential former teacher no doubt helped mask the fact that by then I was an atheist. By the end of 1970 when the draft board replied positively to my application, conscientious objection was hardly a novelty, even in conservative Wheaton, just outside Chicago. By the time I completed my two years of alternative service in 1973, the Geneva Protocol “for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare” that my drill sergeant had alluded to was still not ratified, but in 1975 it was, forty-seven years after it first went into effect. I lost track of Fr. Terence, but following his death in 2009 and burial in a cemetery adjacent to the high school where he taught me religion (and speech and English), I learned that he had been implicated in sexual abuse of numerous minors. I was shocked by the newspaper accounts and found it hard to believe they were true. I still do.
Since, as Kierkegaard said, life can only be lived forward and only be understood backward, the personal impact of the Rotary Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University is much clearer on its 10th anniversary than it was as member of the third cohort in 2007.
I learned of its existence by accident. Like most teachers, I hope every class will so engage student that they, like me, will be sorry it is over and eager to learn still more about the subject at hand. Call this the optimism of hope overriding the reality of lived experience, but I persist, and at the end of the semester give students a roster of resources to extend the curiosity nourished, I hope, by our past semester together. My lists include books, articles, and films plus the names of graduate programs or special workshops and institutes. Creating this roster at the conclusion of “War and Conscience,” co-taught with historian Ben Harrison at the University of Louisville in 2006, I found an announcement of the first cohort of the Rotary Peace and Conflict Studies program at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand. It was conceived for women and men who had already established strong records building peace in a wide variety of ways, but who would also benefit from a condensed program to enhance their skills and knowledge. My Louisville students hardly met the “mid-career” prerequisite, but I hoped I might qualify if that term were stretched a little. Perhaps there would be a place for a “late-mid” or “early-late” career playwright and director. Theatre artist as peacemaker? What a concept.
Thanks to the support of Tom Diener and the Louisville Sunrise Rotary Club, my application went forward, and I was selected for the third cohort, which was scheduled to begin in Bangkok barely a year after I had first read about the program[VJ1] . While completing arrangements before departing, I heard a startling phone greeting I have never forgotten: “This is Jenn Weidman of Rotary’s Peace Department.” Never before or since have I contacted an organization that had a peace department. I was thrilled, and Jenn later confided that my experience making theatre had appealed to the selection committee, something I would never have expected.
I arrived in Bangkok in June, 2007, with nineteen women and men from thirteen countries on four continents selected to participate. Each of us presented analysis of a conflict familiar to us. I chose “Warism and the American World.” Our group embodied the internationalism of Rotary as well as the global perspective that ought to be intrinsic to any peace studies program. Weeks later, a Burmese refugee in the north of Thailand told us, “Looking at your group I see how international you are, and I am encouraged about our future.” We represented the diversity of the world, and he evidently thought this meant that the world had noticed the plight of his people, the Karen.
Over the next eleven weeks the twenty participants ate breakfast and lunch together daily. We studied with engaging teachers from around the world who were practitioners of a broad but intersecting array of topics, among them:
Tom Woodhouse of the University of Bradford on “Conflict Resolution: The State of the Art” and “Nature, Types and Root Causes of Conflict;”
Eric Melander of Uppsala University on “Conflict Mapping” and “Conflict Impact Analysis;”
“Resource Based Conflict” with Vitoon Viriyasakultorn, preparing us for a trip to the north of Thailand;
Kamarulzaman Askandar of Universiti Sains in Malaysia on “Civil Society and Conflict Resolution” especially in Aceh, Indonesia, and Mindanao in the Philippines;
Former U.S. federal mediators Jan Sunnoo and Joel Schaeffer on “Negotiating and Mediation” followed by “Cross Cultural Conflict Resolution;”
Colonel Songwit Noonpakdi of the Thai Army on “The Role of Military in Engaging Civil Society for Peace Making,” with a focus on Thailand’s southern provinces;
Irene Santiago, who had helped negotiate a ceasefire between Muslim separatists and the Philippines government, on “Gender and Peacebuilding” and “Do No Harm and Peacebuilding;”
Far from being mere classroom theory, arid and disconnected from the “real” world, we also observed the interface between theory and practice by traveling: to Northern Thailand near Mae Sariang to study resource conflict over the proposed damning of the Salween River and also to the UNHCR camp of 48,000 Burmese who had fled to Mae Sot just across the Thai border with Myanmar; to Cambodia, slowly emerging from the extended nightmare of genocide, where we saw killing fields and visited the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia being readied for its initial trial, which finally occurred in 2011, more than thirty years after the Khmer Rouge were evicted from power; and to Rayong, south of Bangkok, where the Camillian Social Center had just opened a new orphanage while continuing to care for children with disabilities as well as people with AIDS. Ree, a young girl who was HIV-positive, held my hand as she proudly showed me around her new home. We had no common language to share, but her smile communicated her happiness, and I hope that my smile communicated my joy for her, perhaps more transparent than others on the tour since I had also lived in an orphanage, though only for the first weeks of my life. In Cambodia we met with the District Governor in Samlot, who had been the Ambassador to Senegal under the Khmer Rouge, “we have peace, but the land does not.” He was referring to the continuing threat of land mines, which had already injured one out of every twenty-seven people in his district. The Ottawa Treat of 1997 prohibits the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of anti-personnel mines, the only weapons triggered by their victims. It has been signed by over 160 countries. Russia, China and the United States are not among them
At the end of our intense immersion in peace and conflict studies, eighteen of the participants performed “An Evening with Global Peacemakers,” a staged reading open to the Bangkok public that focused on what we had learned through our seminars, travels, and the intense personal and professional experiences we brought with us to Thailand and shared there too. Occasionally, we had a day off. I left exhilarated.
My comprehension of Peace Studies was more broad, nuanced, and inclusive than my previously blunt but narrow opposition to war. In fact, full scale war and politics were seldom discussed. My comprehension of violence on the macro level of warfare expanded to recognize eerily similar dynamics on both the meso and micro levels. I knew that conflict was everywhere, but I had seldom conceived of it as positive: without conflict, human rights for women, LGBT people, and those with disabilities would not have improved. In no case did these expand because of the good will or generosity of decision makers and power brokers. As Eric Melander asserted our first week at Chula, “Conflict is a necessary element of a dynamic society.” Moreover, despite conflict’s prevalence, it is usually handled peacefully. Violent conflict is the exception.
As I consciously reflect on my Chulalongkorn experience over a decade later, I realize—and admit with mild embarrassment—that it was there and then that I learned such fundamental concepts as: conflict analysis, connectors and dividers, capacity building, interest-based negotiating, Johan Galtung’s distinction between positive and negative peace, and Mary Anderson's bracing challenge in “Can My Good Intentions Make Things Worse?" to pay heed to the unintended as well as intended consequence of our work. For example, INGOs in Cambodia improved roads in rural areas of Batambang province to help subsistence farmers earn more by transporting their products to market faster; alas, those same roads made it easier for sex traffickers to exploit the province's women. Did food aid to Bosnia prolong war there by sustaining soldiers rather than feeding starving civilians? The work of Jean Henry Dunant, co-winner of the first Nobel Peace Prize, alleviated much suffering and death amidst war through the International Red Cross that he founded, but it also enabled injured soldiers to return to battle more quickly.
I returned home from Thailand after an additional two weeks in Laos and Vietnam researching my next project: a play on the American War, as the Vietnamese call it. I had just concluded the most intense and profound learning across a life often spent in classrooms. Still, I was not at all certain how I would apply what I had learned. When writing the new play faltered, I seized the opportunity to write something by agreeing to submit one entry, then another, then still others for the Oxford International Encyclopedia of Peace. Attending the Rotary Center for Peace and Conflict Studies had given me enough self-confidence to pretend I was expert enough to contribute to an encyclopedia.
Genesis in Louisville
Finished with my sabbatical, I returned to the university in 2008 prepared to teach “War and Conscience” again. To help students understand such interdisciplinary seminars that combine social sciences and humanities, each teacher described the course at a dinner for eligible students. I opened my five minutes with a question:
“How many of you know that the United States is now at war in Afghanistan and Iraq?” Hands from 150 students shot up instantly, but I stumped them with my next question, “And how many of you know that Sept. 21 next week marks the UN’s annual International Day of Peace?” I allowed their uneasiness to linger, and then continued, “Isn’t it curious that everyone knows we are waging war, but no one knows about international efforts to foment peace. There are over 300 peace studies programs in the United States. Our university should have one too.” Having made my point, I then described the future course, “War and Conscience.”
A few minutes later, Barbara Burns of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, took the rostrum, “I didn’t know this interested you, Russ. You’re absolutely right. We should have a Peace Studies program.” She then described her seminar on child development, which would include a section on the negative effect of violence on the developing brains of infants. This juxtaposition of violence in two courses, one focusing on the macro level of war, the other on the micro level of child development, would eventually encompass the breadth of the Peace Studies program aborning.
Although on sabbatical, Burns organized a meeting for faculty and staff she thought might join in creating a new program. Colleagues attended from departments including Anthropology, Communication, Criminal Justice, Education, History, Law, Nursing, Mechanical Engineering, Political Science, Social Change, Sports Administration, and Women and Gender Studies. Many remain involved years later. With the support of Blaine Hudson, then Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and John Hale, Director of the Liberal Studies program, in 2010 we were one of nineteen teams invited to the second iteration of “Teaching Peace in the 21st Century,” a week-long workshop at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute of International Peace Studies.
Joy Hart compared the uncertain scope and shape of the program we were imagining to a unicorn: It was out there; we just had to keep looking until we found it. I used the metaphor of an acorn we were nurturing carefully. George Lopez, Professor of Political Science at Notre Dame and head of our Peace Studies summer camp, cut me off quickly: “You are way past the acorn stage. Your dean sent you. Some of these teams are here on their own dime. I’ve been to Louisville’s website: you have the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order, the Muhammad Ali Institute for Peace and Justice, and the Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research.” We were chastened by Lopez’s certitude: We had taken these resources for granted. There were many more campus allies than Lopez realized, among them: Campus Health Promotion; the Cultural Center, which supports students of color; the LGBT Center; the Ombuds Office; and PEACC (Prevention, Education and Advocacy on Campus and in the Community), which focuses on domestic violence and sexual assault. The inclusive conception of peace and conflict studies that I had imbibed in Bangkok helped us seek the participation of every ally we could identify. We had stumbled into a successful principle of community organizing by opening our arms as widely and warmly as possible to everyone engaged in peacebuilding.
One of our earliest allies was John Hale, Director of the Liberal Studies program, which allows selected students to design an individualized interdisciplinary major. Hale imagined a future student proposing a focus on Peace Studies, but wondering what courses would contribute to that goal. He asked us to create an appropriate roster of courses. After a sub-committee led by Rodger Payne, Chair of Political Science, culled the entire course catalogue, we shared preliminary selections with the Chairs of individual departments. We asked them or their Curriculum Committee to add or subtract courses as they thought best. We identified over 125 courses that could contribute to a Liberal Studies major focusing on Peace Studies. Creating these parameters for Liberal Studies was an important step, but not our goal.
Lopez had provided a healthy dose of realpolitik. So did undergraduates who attended focus groups organized by undergraduate Sylvia Gozzini that ran parallel to the meetings for faculty and staff. One student observed, “I’m not going to change my pre-med major, but I would be interested in augmenting it.” This was echoed by the young man who added, “If I went home and said, ‘Hey, Dad, I’m changing my major to Peace Studies,’ he’d reply, ‘That’s terrific, son. Now, how are you going to pay for your education?’”
The unicorn emerging with increasing clarity was an undergraduate certificate, a creature that did not exist even in folklore when I attended college. It required at least twelve credits hours but fewer than eighteen, the minimum for a minor. We adopted the lowest threshold possible—and the limitations that implies—to appeal to as many students as possible. The certificate would augment a major rather than replace it. Students hoped, as did we, it would distinguish them from other graduate school and job candidates.
What’s In a Name?
But what should we call our unicorn? “Peace Studies” was the simplest answer, but we identified some 230 distinct names for the 350 programs then in existence (the number had grown since 2008 and now exceeds 400). I thought “Peace Studies” could be contentious at a public university in a conservative state. I was also eager to project that we offered a place at our table for every student. People of color implicitly understand their stake in justice and, by inference, civil rights. Demonstrators chanting “No peace, no justice; No justice, no peace” remind us of the interdependence of these primal ideals. We might have called ourselves the Peace and Justice Program, but we recognized a further opportunity. “Peace” and “justice” sound abstract to some people; “conflict” is concrete and familiar to everyone. “Conflict transformation” further implies that skills can be developed--then applied--that move individuals, communities, even nations past existing conflicts. In finally adopting “Peace, Justice & Conflict Transformation” (PJCT), a name that is, admittedly, also a mouthful, we hope to communicate that the study at hand and the expertise behind it embrace pragmatic skills, the opposite of the ethereal, naïve, and passive tranquility that some people believe constitutes “peace.”
One of our concerns proved to be prescient: The University of Kentucky, a 90-minute drive from Louisville, planned to open a living and learning community called Peace House in the fall of 2012. One opponent who thought the name sounded unpatriotic quashed it. This sorry anecdote is merely the latest example supporting Dr. Johnson’s assertion that “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Love of country remains widely equated with agreement with the government.
Having decided to create an undergraduate certificate requiring only twelve credit hours, the courses themselves fell quickly into place. We refined and expanded the Liberal Studies roster, which now encompasses over 150 courses, many cross-listed, among twenty-one departments ranging from Anthropology to Women and Gender Studies. (See Elective Courses for the complete roster.) While this strikes some as so broad as to be meaningless, it supports our conception of Peace Studies as a frame, a window through which we can perceive anything in the world outside; that frame and window can also be turned inward to comprehend our psyches and health, which may contribute to inner peace. Or hinder it. Peace Studies is omnidisciplinary, a neologism I adapted from the wide range of murder. Regicide and patricide have been overtaken by the mass destruction of modern war including genocide and the less familiar “omnicide,” the inability of weapons of increasingly massive destruction and of the warriors behind them to distinguish between combatants and civilians.
We require three specific courses on top of any one of the broad base of electives: an introductory course on the fundamentals of peace, justice, and conflict transformation; a course on basic mediation skills; and a capstone “Service Learning in Peacebuilding” that emphasizes praxis by requiring students to work with a local, national, or international organization. They read A Call to Service by Robert Coles and write a substantive paper about their experience that also reflects on their required courses and elective to evaluate ways these prepare them—or not—for the ways of the world encountered during the service learning.
Drafting a detailed proposal to be reviewed by college committees, the Faculty Senate, and eventually the Provost and board overlapped with this planning, we identified specific learning objectives. We expect students to:
Demonstrate knowledge and understanding broader than that generally provided within a single department or discipline;
Demonstrate knowledge among different contexts to underscore the interdependence of thought;
Demonstrate comprehension of the cross-connections among violence and justice on the micro, meso, and macro levels and to understand tools to increase justice and decrease violence;
Demonstrate strong engagement as human beings and global citizens responsible for the world around them, present and future;
Demonstrate initial understanding of a vast topic that can be a locus for lifelong learning.
The university board approved the program in Oct. 2012. The following May our first certificate student graduated. Through time, we have added other interrelated objectives:
Students are expected to comprehend and embrace their agency in the world to empower their lives and affect the world around them;
Students will learn basic mediation skills, practice active listening and paraphrasing, and use the simulations and role playing techniques of interest-based negotiating that are applicable to other forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution;
Students will understand fundamental principles of conflict analysis, restorative justice, strategic non-violence, and conflict transformation;
Students will proactively practice peacebuilding skills by developing a project addressing a personal, local, national, or international issue.
These objectives and others incorporate concepts I encountered at the Rotary Center in Bangkok. They also encompass additional material such as:
- connecting peace and justice;
- practicing civil disobedience and strategic non-violence;
- identifying positive and negative peace in daily life and popular culture;
- applying principles of conflict analysis developed from international warfare and ethnic strife to local and personal conflicts;
- recognizing the pervasiveness of warism, which philosopher Duane Cady defines as “the view that war is both morally justifiable in principle and often morally justified in fact;”
- and fostering social peace through inner peace since, as Rev. Alvin Herring among others has noted, “pain that is not transformed is transferred” and, subsequently, transferred into violent expression.
First Graduate Transcends Expectations
Matt Gammons enrolled in the first version of “Peace, Justice & Conflict Transformation Fundamentals.” Before the program was approved or we could list a course under an approved PEAC rubric, I invited departments to sponsor the course by listing it under individual Special Topics numbers. Justice Administration, Political Science, Social Change, and Social Work all obliged. During that initial offering in the spring 2012 semester, Matt identified himself as a veteran and single father, neither unusual at the University of Louisville. He was a Justice Administration major who hoped to become a police officer. Always perched in the back row, Matt was diligent but taciturn. Near the end of the semester he told me that he planned to take Mediation the following semester, our first official offering under newly-approved PEAC. As that course was concluding, he wondered how he might complete the certificate program only recently approved. Would his work as a Big Brother and forthcoming trip to New Jersey to provide post-Sandy hurricane relief count as service learning? They would—and did.
I was proud to have our first graduate barely six months after the program’s formal beginning, but I did not fully appreciate Matt until he returned to campus to tell students why he had decided to earn the certificate. I felt like I was sitting on Oprah’s couch as Matt shared his inspiring story:
Raised in rural Kentucky, he started farming when he was five. He admitted his region and family were racist, despite his mother’s efforts. He had tried junior college right after high school, but was aimless and unmotivated. He joined the Marines, and soon ran into a problem: Most of the soldiers who became his friends were brown and black. Sent to Iraq, he had another rude awakening: When his company sought volunteers for humanitarian work, Matt volunteered and discovered that what Muslims wanted for their families was similar to what he wanted for his. People weren’t as different as he’d been taught. Helping Iraqis seemed to be the highlight of his military experience. After finishing his tour and returning to college, Matt was motivated to excel. Iraq made him realize that he had interpersonal skills that meshed with his personality and interests. “I’ve noticed,” Matt observed with understatement, “that most people don’t have a positive experience when they interact with the police. I think I have skills, augmented by mediation and other classes, to change that.”
When I proposed a Peace Studies program at the University of Louisville in 2008 and Barb Burns gathered diverse faculty and staff to pursue the idea, we did not imagine the Matt Gammons of the world walking the path we eagerly but uncertainly sought. That we—and he—found each other is a tribute to the omnidisciplanry ways that Peace Studies comprehends our world and engages with it. My college cohorts of the ‘60s are not the only generation eager to change the world.
Kentucky should be recognized for more than fried chicken, bourbon, basketball, and thoroughbreds. Much as our Steering Committee sought allies throughout the campus, we did the same with community organizations whose mission overlaps with ours. We first invited them to distribute information at our annual PeaceDay commemoration, timed to coincide with the UN's International Day of Peace, which began in 2011 as we were submitting our proposal and presumptuously assuming its positive reception. Partner organizations have included:
- The Committee for Peace in the Middle East;
- Compassionate Louisville;
- The Fairness Campaign, dedicated to equal rights for the LGBT community;
- The Fellowship of Reconciliation;
- The Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty;
- Kentucky Refugee Ministries;
- Interfaith Paths to Peace;
- Just Solutions, a mediation training and service center;
- The Muhammad Ali Center;
- Peace Postcards, a public art project based on a bewitchingly simple invitation, “What Does Peace Look Like to You?” which has led to an exhibit of drawings and paintings at the Muhammad Ali Center and to tours of Hiroshima and Teheran;
- The Resilient Families Projects, which supports local families experiencing homelessness;
- Veterans for Peace.
Louisville is also home to two nationally recognized organizations that teach children to diminish bullying and other forms of violence: the Peace Education Program and SPAVA, the Society for the Prevention of Adolescent Violence and Aggression.
Some of these host culminating service learning projects with our students, who obviously benefit from studying in a metropolitan area with such a dynamic range of organizations. Service learning highlights among those who have completed the certificate include the following:
Jana Imel offered mediation services to employees at Hotel Louisville, which provides shelter and training for families experiencing homelessness. When she graduated in 2014, Jana won the Woodcock Medal as the outstanding student in the College of Arts and Sciences. She is now pursuing a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology.
Branka Damjanovic worked in the legal department of Kentucky Refugee Ministries, which assists refugees who are victims of warfare or other forms of persecution because of their religious or political beliefs. Selected as the student speaker at graduation in December 2014, Branka cited her Peace Studies classes. After finishing law school, she was commissioned into the Judge Advocate General's corps of the Air Force.
John Doyle gave his energy and strength to Women in Transition, a grassroots organization seeking economic human rights for everyone.
Tiffany Harrington served Metro United Way of Louisville. It offered her a staff position, which she began upon graduation.
Nancy Streckfus was also offered a job, with the Clark County (Indiana) Youth Shelter.
Rachel Hugenberg supported immigrant populations at the Iroquois branch of the Louisville Free Public Library before beginning graduate school in library science.
Planning to enter law school, Neal Morris sought out the ACLU. He did research on a bill allowing undocumented workers to drive legally and used Open Records Requests on SWAT teams to examine the militarization of police departments throughout the state.
Mikaela Matifies catalogued photographs at the Muhammad Ali Center and helped host its annual Humanitarian Banquet before pursuing her sports administration ambitions as an intern with a minor league baseball team.
Fairen Harris used her facility with icebreakers and cooperatives games to enrich the lives of young people at Bellewood Home for Children, which serves abused, neglected, and homeless youth and families.
Such required service learning of the PJCT program embodies the Rotary slogan I first heard in Thailand, “Service Above Self." Students are motivated not to seek status, but to change the status quo. I had encountered the same at Chulalongkorn where, for example, Cécile Diatta, a teacher from Senegal who had also worked supervising elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, told our cohort, “My commitment to peace and conflict resolution started when I was a twelve-year-old Girl Scout. We were taught many things, among them helping poor people. We were shown the importance of bonne action, good actions.”
Conclusion: Peace in Every Step
In 2013, the University of Louisville expanded its recruitment of talented students of color by creating the Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholars program for ten incoming freshmen each year interested in social justice. Many have earned the PJCT certificate.
In the fall of 2014, we doubled the offerings of required PEAC courses from once/year to once/semester. The following spring, we offered our first on-line course, fundamentals of PJCT. We add a new course in the fall of 2019. PEAC 201 "Peace and Conflict: For Daily Life, Civic Affairs, and Professional Life Ahead" meets general education requirement for social and behavioral science and international diversity. It includes units on sustainability and service learning and will, we hope, introduce freshmen to a subject new to most of them: Peace Studies. In 2019 we will also propose a PJCT minor.
A devoted core of students, staff, and faculty spent considerable time figuring out the right shape for our Peace Studies program, as if there really were one. Like the unicorn we sought, it exists in myth but not reality. There are as many ways, shapes, and foci of Peace Studies as there are ways to lead worthy lives. In retrospect at least, there is no right way; but there is clearly a wrong way: being passive, doing nothing.
Among the challenges that persist is living up to the program’s name and expectations. While working as the literary manager of a Los Angeles theatre after graduate school I had a rude awakening when the artistic director noted some errors in a rejection letter I had typed quickly but inaccurately. Chastened, I learned that every missive from a “literary” manager ought to be in perfect English. Bearing the title “Director” of a program in Peace, Justice & Conflict Transformation creates similar expectations. I feel obligated to weigh the justice of decisions with extra care, and I second-guess myself after the fact even more than my norm. The title, attached to the program's name, can feel like a lodestone when I encounter conflict I cannot transform or cannot do so with grace and eptitude. Being perceived as an emblem of peace and justice--or merely imagining I might be perceived this way--creates nearly as high a bar as emulating a revered father.
Since Matt Gammons received our first certificate in May 2013, eighty more students have graduated and still more have completed the program that will be noted on their transcripts when they graduate. Whatever the future of these bright women and men, it is now certain that peacebuilding can be seamlessly incorporated into their academic lives. And core competencies about conflict, listening, strategic non-violence, and peacebuilding can be integrated into their lives at a formative stage as they charge forth into the world they inherit. What ails that world was wrought by men—and sometimes women; it can be ameliorated, sometimes made entirely right, by other women—and men too. Peace is not an ideal, not pure, and not a destination. Rather, as A.J. Muste noted long ago, “Peace is the way.” And as Thich Nhat Hahn echoed, “Peace is every step of the way.”
(Originally written for the Tenth Anniversary of Rotary's Peace and Conflict Studies Center at Chulalongkorn University in 2015, this essay was lightly revised in 2019.)