On campus, turning young minds toward peace


At Goucher College, no single path leads to peace.

In Jennifer Bess' class, Being Human, students examine the idea of purposefulness. In Beyond Words, a course designed by Nitzan Gordon, students dance, hug and speak of their interior lives. In lawyer Seble Dawit's international human rights seminar, students examine pivotal court cases.

"You look at [peace] academically, theoretically, internationally, and on the practical side, when you work in an after-school program," says junior Lindsay Johnson, 21, who is pursuing an interdisciplinary major in peace studies, education and theater. "It's been so fascinating. Each lens I look through, I learn something new."

At a time of war and terrorism, the growth of Goucher's peace studies program -- from a single offering 14 years ago to 18 courses today -- reflects the burgeoning conviction among students and scholars that peace studies have a place on the nation's college campuses alongside other, more traditional fields of inquiry.

"Since 9 / 11, there's been an unprecedented interest in peace and justice issues, and students in unprecedented numbers have flocked into classes," says Simona Sharoni, director of the Peace and Justice Studies Association, based at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.

In the United States alone, more than 70 undergraduate departments offer degrees in peace studies. Some 90 schools have master's programs and 30 offer Ph.D.s in the field. All told, there are more than 300 programs of peace study in the United States, at institutions ranging from Indiana's tiny Earlham College to its huge cross-state neighbor, University of Notre Dame.

And yet, even as they expand, peace studies programs confront what Dawit, director of Goucher's program, calls a "credibility lag." Many people don't know what the field is, or question its academic legitimacy. While certain peace studies programs are generously endowed, others can be easily overlooked by funding sources and are susceptible to budget cuts.

Part of the problem is that a definition of peace studies is a work in progress.

"There's no consensus on what peace studies is," says Nancy Hanawi, a conflict resolution specialist at the University of California at Berkeley and co-chair of the Peace and Justice Studies Association. The field has experienced "major development in the past five to 10 years in terms of conception, theory and practice, but ... if you look in six different places, you will find rather different things."

The challenge for programs like these, says Matthew Hartley, an assistant professor in the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education, "is the fact that they're interdisciplinary and don't have a disciplinary home." Because such programs lack a "basis of power" within the university, he says, they are often the places that get hit first during budget cuts.

For the field of peace studies to take root in larger research universities, it "will have to ultimately legitimize itself through advancing our knowledge about how the world works," Hartley says. Other fields once considered faddish, such as women's studies, have worked their way into the academic mainstream, he says.

Violence as a tool

The first peace studies program was established in 1948 at Manchester College, an Indiana school affiliated with the Church of the Brethren, a pacifist denomination. After the Vietnam War, the field grew steadily.

At Goucher, the peace studies program began in 1990 with a nonviolence course taught by its first director, philosophy professor Joe Morton. From there, the program grew somewhat haphazardly with courses taught by scholars drawn to the subject from different departments.

In their idiosyncratic way, those in the peace studies field "have gradually built up its credentials through courses, peace journals and conferences," says Morton, who retired in 2000, but continues to teach a popular course on Native Americans.

Whether based on spiritual tenets, such as the peace studies program at Earlham, a Quaker college, or on secular scholarship at a small liberal arts school such as Goucher, peace studies offer different ways to examine conflict, Dawit says.

"Conflict is not the problem," says the human rights lawyer, whom Goucher hired three years ago to create a major in the field. "The problem is continuing human reliance on incredible and often catastrophic violence as a means of resolving conflict."

Strategies for resolving conflict apply equally to both war-torn countries and neighborhoods ravaged by the drug trade, says Dawit, 40, a woman with a precise manner of speech and a radiant smile. She refers to a course in which Goucher students work with Baltimore City children to learn conflict-resolution strategies.

"Our lab is the community. Whether it's Kuala Lumpur or Baltimore, the basic challenges of living a human and connected life are the same."

Healing contact

Faculty in Goucher's peace studies program see it as a conduit for lessons that might not be possible in other, more narrowly focused, departments. Bess, whose field of study is English Renaissance literature, designed the Being Human course because students in her classes "were raising questions about themselves and the literature we were reading that I felt deserved more time and more attention."

In Gordon's Beyond Words course, students explore childhood trauma. A painful childhood leaves its mark in ways that are physical as well as emotional, she says. Grief and anger stored in the body must be recognized and treated through exercises, dance and healing contact with others, if ethnic, racial and religious differences are to be resolved, she says.

"I've seen so many people try to work through [differences] through just the use of words and it doesn't work," says Gordon, a dance therapist who has presented workshops in Israel since 1989 that train Arab and Israeli kindergarten teachers to become leaders in the coexistence effort.

For Goucher freshman Joshua Cohen, peace studies classes have been an exciting antidote to high school, where "the same issues and figures were highlighted time and time again. To me, this made absolutely no sense ... why would anyone ever want to view the world around them with blinders on?"

A signature strength

Despite its breadth, peace studies still suffer from a reputation as a rag-tag collection of classes thrown together by 1960s-style idealists.

"Those days are over," Dawit says. "We are dealing with a credibility lag that is not appropriate to the numbers of programs that we have and the strengths of the programs that we have. The fact is, these are no longer marginal programs in little-known schools."

With a degree in peace studies, "Graduates end up working on economic justice issues, human rights and in academic settings," says Andres Thomas Conteris, a 1984 graduate of Earlham College's Peace and Global Studies Program. Conteris, 42, is a Latin American human rights activist and program director for Nonviolence International in Washington, D.C., who recently attracted media attention for protesting the nomination of John D. Negroponte as U.S. ambassador to Iraq.

In 10 years, peace studies enrollment at Goucher has multiplied from 41 students to more than 200 now taking courses in the program. The school's administration is committed to the expansion of peace studies into a major, says Michael Curry, vice president and academic dean. The curriculum must be approved at several levels, including the school's board of trustees and the Maryland State Department of Higher Education.

As a major, peace studies would reflect well on Goucher, Curry says. A particular field of study that becomes known as a school's signature strength "starts to influence the perceived value of the institution," he says.

However, Dawit, the only full-time professor in the peace studies program, also has been charged with raising funds to keep it afloat. Such interdisciplinary programs do not rely on money funneled through standard departments. Three endowments currently support peace studies at Goucher.

Nationally, peace studies are thriving at some schools and struggling at others. Last year, the late philanthropist Joan Kroc left $50 million to the University of Notre Dame's Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. In October, the Lilly Endowment gave $13.8 million to Earlham, Goshen and Manchester, the three Indiana schools that are home to the country's first peace programs.

But at Berkeley, where peace studies is not an official department, there are no tenure track positions, "making it very vulnerable to budget cuts," Hanawi says.

Large research institutions that are funded by defense-related institutions are unlikely to be hospitable to peace studies programs, Dawit says. "That's not the case in liberal arts schools, which can take a leadership position" in the promulgation of peace studies.

Under Dawit's guidance, Goucher is positioning itself to be among those leaders.

It's appropriate, she says, "that in a country like the United States, the most powerful, the richest, the most well-armed, the greatest exporter of weapons and technology for the conduct of war, that Americans should be studying peace."

Sample curriculums

A sampling of peace studies courses offered at colleges across the country:

Goucher College Peace Studies Program

* Native Americans, Then and Now

* Peace: Where Philosophy Gives Birth to Practice

* Issues in Conflict Resolution

Earlham College (Richmond, Ind.) Peace and Global Studies Interdepart-mental Program

* Reconciliation and Peace Making in the Middle East

* Philosophy: Peace and Justice

* Sexual Violence and Social Context

Evergreen State College (Olympia, Wash.) peace and justice-themed curricula

* Alternatives to Globalization

* Interpreting Liberation

* Transforming Relationships

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