Peacebuilding Leadership, Civic Engagement, and College Students

By: David J. Smith, May 19, 2015

CCNCCE attendees consider peacebuilding leadership

CCNCCE attendees consider peacebuilding leadership

The annual international conference of the Community College National Center for Community Engagement (CCNCCE) is currently being held in Scottsdale, AZ.   Over 150 U.S. and international community college faculty are meeting starting tomorrow, May 20 and May 21 for CCNCCE’s 24th gathering.  This year’s theme is “Authentic Leadership Through Service Learning and Civic Engagement.”

Preconference workshops were held today, May 19.  I was invited to host one on “Building Peace and Community Wellness: Service-Learning and Civic Engagement Models.”  I had 18 faculty, administrators, and students from a range of community colleges in my session including from North Shore Commmunity College, Mesa Community College, St. Petersburg College, and Hudson Valley Community College.

My goal was to have participants consider approaches using peacebuilding awareness that can be applied to advance civic engagement with community college students.   I shared with them various interpretations of peace and conflict, emphasizing the importance of peace as “means” and conflict as an opportunity for positive change and opportunity, rather than something that is seen as destructive. Peace “means” relate to specific abilities and strategies that individuals can use to make change including dialogue, nonviolent action, education, and volunteer service.  Civic engagement centers on applying skills, knowledge and values that enable an individual to improve community life.  The model that I proposed was:

Conflict (a specific situation) + Peace (as “means”) = Civic Engagement

Using David Kolb’s Cycle of Experiential Learning, faculty and those working with students can tap students’ individual experiences to build their confidence in taking on leadership roles and advancing peacebuilding.

David Kolb's Cycle of Experiential Learning

David Kolb’s Cycle of Experiential Learning

I demonstrated how this might work by using various conflict based situations that community college students might find themselves including a male volunteer fireflighter advocating for a LGBT female colleague,  a basketball player supporting a potential team member with a disability, an assistant manager in a diner confronting staff who have not been accepting of new Latino employees, a son confronting his father who is intolerant of African immigrants, and a student government member who argues that college space should be used for a Muslim student group.  The actual scenarios are attached below.

Adapting Kolb’s cycle, the model looks as follows:

1. A student engages in classroom learning designed to prepare him/her to deal with conflict (concrete experience)

2. A student experiences a conflict situation (such as the scenarios) (concrete experience)

3. Faculty/staff debriefs the student to learn about her/her experience (reflective observation, abstract conceptionalization)

4. The student uses this experience to engage in other experiences  including service learning centered on peacebuilding (active experimentation, concrete experience)

5. The faculty/staff member adjusts/modifies his/her course or activity to build in the student’s experience (active experimentation, concrete experience)

This models promotes leadership with college students, particularly those who are “leaders in waiting”- students who have not had the opportunity to engage as leaders.   In addition, it recognizes that students best learn through their own experiences: basic notions of constructivism and experiential learning.




A PLACE TO PRAY, 5.15.15


Community Colleges and the Challenge of Violent Extremism

By: David J. Smith, May 1, 2015

Consider these three recent events.

In the first case, a self-proclaimed neo-Nazi kills his college work-study supervisor. The killer claims to hate gays, and killed his boss because he was gay.

In the second case, two brothers of Muslim Chechen background set off bombs at an international marathon, killing three and injuring another 260. The motivation for the acts: revenge for U.S. actions against Muslims.

And in the third case, Somali students studying at a local college recognize their common goal of becoming members of a violent Jihadist group in the Middle East. They attempt to travel to join the group, but are stopped by federal authorities.

The first case took place recently in North Carolina. The man charged with first-degree murder was Kenneth Morgan Stancil, III. The second case can be easily identified as the Tsarnaev brothers, responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings. The third case was uncovered recently with the arrest of six Minnesota students of Somali background attempting to join the Islamic State.

The primary similarity among these events is that they involve cases of violent extremism. The acts of a neo-Nazi might be considered in a different category as those of radical Jihadism. Where the former are considered hate crimes and grouped with acts of white nationalists, Klansmen, and racist skinheads, the latter is often considered politically motivated and inspired by Islamic fundamentalism. But both forms can be just as deadly.

Another comparison is offered.   Stancil was a student at Wayne Community College where the crime was committed, while Tamerlan Tsarnaev had attended Bunker Hill Community College (Dzhokhar Tsarnaev attended the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth). And some of the Somali students were enrolled at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.

I don’t mean to suggest that these community colleges were at fault in the tragedies that followed. As open enrollment institutions, community colleges have no means of vetting the political views or social values of students. Often the application process is a token one. Unlike 4-year institutions, there is no SAT or ACT required, nor a written application requiring students to share their life goals, be it to be a doctor or lawyer, or spread extremist views.

The process that one goes through in becoming radicalized as a neo-Nazi or Jihadist varies with one’s environment; family, cultural, and religious influences; and economic circumstances. However, it is safe to say that in the diverse populations that are drawn to community colleges there will invariably be individuals who could develop extremist and anti-social outlooks.     In my teaching experiences in a community college, I was at times struck by the narrow-minded opinions of some students that though not extreme, did expose views that given the right conditions could lead to something more troubling.

Many community colleges are seeing rising student populations from parts of the world that are affected by violent conflict.   Students are often torn between allegiance to their homeland and cultural and religious ways of life, and the modernity that is part of America.   Many adjust well, finding balance between the two worlds and graduate, start a career and family, and contribute to the greater good. Others struggle, and are influenced by views that lead them down the road to violent extremism. With the attention today on radical Islam, community colleges with large Muslim populations are most susceptible to negative influences.

In addition, many communities continue to suffer from economic and social distress. Unemployment is high, and upward mobility is limited.   These communities are often rural, and lack the cultural and ethnic diversity that might help promote tolerance. Lacking education and access to accurate information on the reasons for their circumstances, people will create scapegoats. Ignorance can lead to anti-social behavior such as bullying, and in some cases violence. And individuals holding these views and engaging in this behavior may find themselves in community college.

Often referred to as “democracy’s colleges,” community colleges need to commit themselves in a serious way to solving the social ills that impact our local, national, and global communities.   Community colleges have a responsibility to ensure that students feel welcome and safe, embrace values of civic responsibility, and develop skills that prepare them to succeed in a diverse and borderless world. This needs to be a major effort with national community college groups playing a role. It has important implications for global and national security. Those coming from parts of the world or parts of U.S. where violence is perceived as an appropriate means need to be exposed to nonviolent and socially acceptable methods for change. The notion of democracy is more than a form of government, it means a society that is respectful of differences, promotes peaceful avenues for dealing with change, and seeks to reduce anti-social and extreme views and behaviors. Community colleges are singularly in a position to take this on today.

Lane Community College to Hold 8th Annual Peace Symposium, April 30

By: David J. Smith, April 26, 2015

I received this notice from Stan Taylor at Lane Community College’s Peace Center.  The college is located in Eugene, Oregon.


News from Lane Community College

April 21, 2015

Lane Peace Center is honored to bring Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Suzan Harjo and Ecotrust Indigenous Conservation Leadership award recipient Dennis Martinez to speak from an indigenous perspective on the historical and contemporary role of Indians in America.

Eugene – The Lane Peace Center’s 8th annual peace symposium, Seeing Red: Indigenous Perspectives on Peace & Justice, will be held on the Lane Community College Main Campus on April 30, 2015, with a morning in the Longhouse from 10:00 am to 12:30 pm and evening session in the Center for Meeting and Learning from 7:00 to 9:30 pm.

The symposium will focus on the role and experiences of Native Americans in contemporary and historical America. We are pleased to bring two prominent American Indians as our keynote speakers: Suzan Harjo and Dennis Martinez.

President Obama awarded Dr. Harjo the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work as a writer, curator, and activist, to improve the lives of Native peoples. She was a key figure in the passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. As the founder of the Morning Star Institute she helped to found and curate the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.

Dennis Martinez is the Founder of the Indigenous Peoples Restoration Network. He works internationally with community-based Indigenous Peoples on cultural rights, climate change, eco-cultural restoration, and bridging Western Science with Traditional Ecological Knowledge. He is a recipient of an Ecotrust Indigenous Conservation Leadership awardee for Pacific North America.

The event is free, but seating is limited. The event will be live-streamed. To find complete information about attending or watching the live-stream go to:

Media Contact: Stan Taylor –Chair, Lane Community College Peace Center

Email: Phone: 541-463-5820

Community College Faculty and Global Public Health Experts Meet in Alexandria, VA

By: David J. Smith, April 13, 2015

Final day of the program

Final day of the program

During April 9-11, 2015  U.S. and Canadian community college faculty from a range of disciplines including nursing, political science, sociology, biology, Spanish, and public health met to consider approaches that can be implemented to advance global public health education.   They were joined by Humphrey Scholars from Rwanda and Cameroon, and a Fulbrighter-in-Residence from India currently teaching at George Mason University.  A complete list of those attending (participants) the seminar is found below.

Dan Barnett, MD from Johns Hopkins University

Dan Barnett, MD from Johns Hopkins University

The program, Global Health Crises, Pandemics, and Policy Challenges: Approaches to Teaching in Community Colleges, was sponsored by the Institute for Public Service  (IPS) at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria, VA.  The program was part of the Institute’s efforts to develop professional development programs in the Washington, DC area that provide community colleges with access to national and international organizations and experts.

At the World Health Organization

At the World Health Organization

The program featured presentations by global public health experts from George Mason University (Kathryn Jacobsen, PhD), George Washington University (Richard Riegelman, MD, PhD), and Yale University (Richard Skolnik, MPA).   In addition, public health practitioners from Doctors Without Borders (Ansley Howe, MPH, MSN) and Johns Hopkins University (Dan Barnett, MD) provided insights and training as to best practices in public health.  Two site visits were held during the program: to the World Health Organization/Pan American Health Organization (Marcos A. Espinal, MD) and the U.S. Institute of Peace (Jeff Helsing, PhD).   The seminar had a strong curriculum development focus and included insights from colleges teaching public health, including Montgomery College (Lila Fleming, MS).  For a complete rundown on the program, see the agenda found below.

Listening to PAHO/WHO briefing

Listening to the WHO/PAHO briefing

The next faculty professional development seminar sponsored by the Institute for Public Service will be the 3rd Annual National Community College Peacebuilding Seminar scheduled for October 23-26, 2015.  If you have questions about this seminar or the IPS, contact Linda Rodriguez at  

At the U.S. Institute of Peace

At the U.S. Institute of Peace

Group photo at WHO/PAHO

Group photo at WHO/PAHO



Final Agenda – Global Health Crises, Pandemics, and Policy Challenges – Approaches to Teaching in Community Colleges


Independence Community College Establishes Conflict Resolution Program: Dwight D. Eisenhower Institute for Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution

By: David J. Smith, April 13, 2015

Independence Community College  (ICC) in Independence, KS recently established a certificate in conflict resolution.  In an email dated April 10, Konye Ori, associate professor of communications,  the program coordinator,  wrote “Independence Community College is set to begin its conflict resolution program in the fall of 2015…. We (will) have experts, dignitaries, and field agents lecture (and)  engage with our students.”  The program will be the cornerstone of ICC’s  Dwight D. Eisenhower Institute for Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution.

The program, as noted on the college website, is  “specifically designed for students and mid-career professionals to train them in conflict analysis and resolution theory, research, and practical techniques relevant to their focused area of study or work.”  To complete the certificate, students must complete 5 courses for a total of 15 credit hours. Courses include Conflict Analysis and Resolution; Conflict and Peacebuilding;  Conflict, Identity, and Culture; and 6 hours of conflict resolution electives.

In October 2014, Ori attended the 2nd Annual National Community College Peacebuilding Seminar sponsored by Northern Virginia Community College and held in Alexandria, VA. There, he met with conflict resolution and peacebuilding professionals and organizations. Upon his return to Kansas, I was invited to visit Independence Community College in February 2015  to help promote the college’s effort and raise the profile of peacebuilding and conflict resolution work.

ICC’s program joins the ranks of more than 40 U.S. and Canadian community colleges offering programs and initiatives that focus on a range of peacebuilding themes.

For more information on the ICC program, contact Konye Ori at

REGISTRATION OPEN: 3rd Annual National Community College Peacebuilding Seminar, October 23-26, 2015

By: David J. Smith, April 2, 2015

The 3rd Annual National Community College Peacebuilding Seminar will be held October 23-26, 2015 at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria, VA.   Registration is now open and can be completed here.  Registration closes 9/28/15.

The seminar is designed to build capacity in community colleges for teaching about global peace, conflict, and violence.   The seminar deals not only with international issues, but also domestic notions of conflict.   Presenters at the 2014 seminar included experts from the U.S. Institute of Peace,  Student Peace Alliance, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, and Sustained Dialogue.   Site visits were held at the U.S. Institute of Peace, Organization of American States, U.S. Department of State, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.   The agenda for this year’s program will be finalized early in the summer 2015, but will reflect much of the 2014 program.

Last year 35 faculty from 16 community colleges in 12 states attended the program.   This NOVA blog post describes the program.  In addition, these posts from this blog cover each day of the 2014 program.

If you have questions of the program, please contact me at

Using Music to Build an Intergenerational Peacebuilding Coalition: Peter Yarrow at Northampton Community College

By: David J. Smith, March 30, 2015

Peter Yarrow at singing on stage with NCC students

Peter Yarrow with NCC students

Northampton Community College (NCC) in Bethlehem, PA held its 5th Annual Peace and Justice Conference on March 26.   This year’s conference – sponsored by the Center for Peace, Justice, and Conflict Resolution –  featured folk legend and activist Peter Yarrow, formerly of the musicial group Peter, Paul and Mary.  Besides performing classics such as “If I Had a Hammer” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” Yarrow talked about the work of his not for profit, Operation Respect, which focuses on ending bullying. Before and after his talk and performance, I offered peacebuilding workshops for students, faculty, staff and community members.

Political science students and projects at NCC Peace Conference

Political science students and  their projects at NCC’s Peace Conference

A number of community colleges around the U.S. host annual peace and social justice conferences including Pasco Hernando State College (formerly Pasco Hernando Community College) (FL) and Lane Community College (OR).   Two-year institutions are well positioned to support community-based initiatives designed to advance community engagement and wellness, and allow local residents to learn about important peacebuilding related issues.

Often a program or event becomes an opportunity to create a cross-generational gathering and sharing about community needs.   Because the conference featured 1960s musical icon Yarrow, it drew many residents who had come of age during the civil rights and anti-war movement period. As one attendee said to me: “There were a lot of ‘white hairs’ in the room!”   But with these “white hairs” were as many younger NCC students (a few with pink and blue hair!).

In my sessions I focused on fostering an intergenerational discussion on issues of peace and social justice.   I drew on the wisdom and experience of the older attendees to inspire the younger ones. Likewise, the enthusiasm and spirit of younger students gave hope to the older ‘white hairs.’   Besides talking about impressions of peace and conflict, we talked about the use of social media in advancing social justice, current issues of violence including bullying, and ways to build on the passion rekindled during the gathering.

Prof. Vasiliki Anastasakos, who has been a champion of peace and social justice efforts at the college, organized the conference.   A number of her students displayed  poster projects they had developed as part of her honors political science course. Project topics included the stigma of mental illness, the problems of fracking, Islamophobia, and discrimination against people with disabilities.

photo 1-1 photo 4 photo 4-1 photo 2 photo 3