Creating Spaces for Emerging Peacebuilders at the Community College Level

By: Katie Zanoni, November 14, 2014*

PJSA 2014

Questioning the dominant paradigm of thinking that has shaped the reality that we live in offers a powerful opportunity. When I zoom outside of my own reality, I recognize the myriad dichotomies that have shaped my positionality within these socially constructed boundaries. The dichotomy of peace and war is one duality that if given space and time to explore can inhabit discussions around everything in between: nonviolence, social justice, human rights, conflict transformation, sustainability and so much more. What would emerge if additional academic environments were available to consider what possibilities might be imagined between and beyond the false binary of peace and war? Would future peacebuilders discover a world that is neither utopian in nature nor bellicose in spirit? As a peace and human rights educator, I was invited to delve into similar questions through my role of co-creating a new Peace Studies (1) Associate degree at San Diego City College (SDCC), a community college that serves an estimated 16,000 students in southern California (Fact Book: City College, 2014). This experience allowed us to sow seeds of institutional change to advance a curriculum steeped in critical pedagogy to explore foundational concepts in Peace Studies and awaken our collective moral imagination to surpass our existing understanding of war and peace (Lederach, 2005). (2)

The germination of these seeds has resulted in two crucial accomplishments. The first is the creation of the only approved Peace Studies Associate Degree in California. The second is that Peace Studies is now a recognized discipline as authorized by the California Academic Senate for Community Colleges. According to research conducted by David Smith, author of Peacebuilding in Community Colleges (2013), SDCC is one of twenty-one campuses in the United States with a similar program. As Smith points out, there are close to 1,200 community colleges in this country. With almost ten percent of those colleges housed in the state of California, these achievements could serve as a viable path for other colleges to institute a similar initiative. To this end, I offer a brief summary of the process we took at SDCC and a summary of a recent visioning exercise that took place at the 2014 Peace and Justice Studies Association (PJSA) conference. The following steps highlight how we gained campus, district and statewide support for our Peace Studies Associate Degree.

Peace Studies Program at San Diego City College
Required courses from other disciplines: Issues in Environmental Biology; Introduction To Philosophy: Values; Introduction to Cultural Anthropology; Contemporary International Politics; and Introduction to Literature.

New Peace Studies courses (number of students enrolled from 2009-2014): Introduction to Peace Studies (389 students); Nonviolence and Conflict Resolution (261 students); Environmental Sustainability, Justice and Ethics (217); and Field Experience in Peace Studies.

(Data collected from San Diego City College records and from

Step 1: Create an interdisciplinary Peace Studies Curriculum Advisory Committee.

Our team represented faculty from an Anthropological, Philosophical, Biological, Literary, and Peace Studies perspective. In 2001, the faculty initiated the development of this program and drew on the strength of an inter-departmental curriculum committee to establish institutional alliances among other faculty, administrators, and students on campus. In addition to creating the foundation for an authentically interdisciplinary program, our committee members supported this budding initiative during critical budget cuts. This unified voice was supported by the former campus President and resulted in a multilevel effort to launch the program.

Step 2: Survey existing courses at four-year institutions of higher education and community college campuses.

This process offers multiple outcomes including the establishment of sound curriculum, the creation of a network of peace educators, and a survey of where similar courses might articulate into four-year academic institutions. Articulation is vital to the success of a newly developed program at a community college. Our curriculum committee was advised that 80% of the courses in our proposed major should articulate with at least three four-year institutions. While all of the abovementioned outcomes are equally valued, the last point regarding articulation requires more discussion among educators in higher education to collaborate on the development of rising Peace Studies programs at the community college level.

The committee carefully considered existing courses and researched our own disciplines to engage in rich discussions about what would be included and what would be articulated. The campus curriculum committee advised us that the course focused on environmental sustainability was more appropriate as an upper division level and belonged to the four-year institutions. This led the committee to ask the critical question of what structural blockages exist in originating new and innovative curriculum as a community college. Infusing issues of ecology, sustainability, and environmental ethics was crucial to our committee and when this course was criticized based upon the premise that it may not articulate, we were faced with a difficult decision. Do we follow the academic trends of our receiving institutions or do we generate opportunities for our students to engage in relevant content? This conversation deserves more attention and is a area of exploration in connecting four-year institutions to community colleges to create more transfer pipelines and engage in a deeper pedagogical inquiry about generating new curriculum in higher education.

Step 3: Institutionalize the program, courses and the discipline.

Each semester our committee was presented with frightening statistics of classes being cut and concerns that our program might be scaled back. Our committee took great lengths at promoting our program among our student body, within our community, our campus and our state. However, a paradoxical issue arose that further threatened our program. According to some interpretations, one with a Masters Degree in Peace Studies was not eligible to teach Peace Studies due to the fact that it was not a recognized discipline as determined by the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges. In order to remedy this issue, our committee proposed a resolution in 2010 and in 2012 to the Academic Senate to have Peace Studies added to the discipline list to avoid further confusion. After the initial proposal was denied in 2010, we revised and resubmitted our proposal and received overwhelming support that resulted in the approval of the discipline in April of 2013.

This step represents a significant success for several reasons. In 2012, there were at least seventeen colleges in California offering courses with the term “peace” included in the title. With a new Peace Studies discipline, faculty can hire academics with a graduate degree in Peace Studies or the equivalent to teach these courses. The benefit of this development is that the creation of a new discipline does not preclude a college from hiring a Political Scientist to teach a Peace Studies course housed in the Political Science department. In the contrary, it offers the freedom to increase the hiring pool to include professors with a Peace Studies graduate degree. A second benefit is that community colleges hoping to design similar initiatives can lean on the credibility that comes with establishing a stand-alone discipline. Graduates from Peace Studies can continue to be recognized as experts in the field thus resulting in a broader range of peace educators in the academy.

Step 4: Create a preferred future for the Peace Studies program at SDCC.

Drawing from the work of Elise Boulding, a visioning workshop was presented at the 2014 PJSA conference to identify how the degree program could be expanded, further institutionalized, and duplicated. The visioning exercise was co-facilitated to address limitations and invite new recommendations for Peace Studies programming in California. The visioning exercise was organized around the following inquiry: What strategies can be used to increase awareness and build community to strengthen Peace Studies programming within higher education in California?  Participants brainstormed ideas in small groups using the backcasting model to “create a preferred image of the state of Peace Studies at the college level in California in 2050” (Bodinet & Zanoni, 2014). The conversations resulted in ideas that included, 1) the need to institutionalize Peace Studies within formal schooling in the United States from kindergarten through to the collegiate level, 2) the recommendation to gain support on a national, state, and district wide policy level to recognize Peace Studies as a viable and necessary component to our educational system (3), and 3) the desire to integrate topics related to Peace Studies within existing disciplines in the formal educational system in the United States. Indeed, this is just the beginning of a larger conversation that we wish to open up to all stakeholders invested in creating educational spaces where our minds and hearts are opened to invite social action toward transformation to consider a world where sustainable positive peace is possible.


(1) For the purpose of this article, Peace Studies is the discipline referred to throughout and encompasses all related programs within the umbrella of Peace and Conflict Studies.
(2) According to John Paul Lederach (2005), the moral imagination is the “capacity to imagine something rooted in the challenges of the real world yet capable of giving birth to that which does not yet exist” (p. ix).
(3) Examples from the Philippines, Costa Rica, and Kenya can be drawn from to review national policy that have included language on peace education.


–  Bodinet, J. & Zanoni, K. (2014). “Institutionalizing Peace Studies at San Diego Community College”. Workshop at the Peace and Justice Studies Association Conference on “Courageous Presence”, San Diego, CA.
–  Fact Book: City College. (2014). Retrieved from Reports/College and District Fact Books/2014/Fact_Book_City_2014.pdf
–  Lederach, J. P. (2005). The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace. Oxford, MA: Oxford University Press.
–  Smith, D. (2013). Peacebuilding in Community Colleges: A Teaching Resource. Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace Press.

About the Author:

Katie Zanoni served as the Peace Studies Curriculum Advisory Chair at San Diego City College from 2007-2013 and is currently pursuing a doctorate degree at the University of San Francisco in International and Multicultural Education with a concentration in Human Rights Education. For more information about the SDCC Peace Studies program or to join the conversation to envision the further institutionalization of Peace Studies in formal educational settings at the Community College, please contact

Portions of this article appeared in the Peace and Justice Studies Association Newsletter (Winter 2014) under the title, “Community Colleges: A Home for Future Peacebuilders” by Katie Zanoni and were edited and updated for this publication.

*This piece originally appeared in the Global Campaign for Peace Education Newsletter #115, November 2014

Published by David J. Smith

I am a career coach, consultant, and head of a not for profit - the Forage Center - that offers humanitarian education training. I also teach at George Mason University and Drexel University. A one time lawyer, I spent many years teaching in a community college where I was a Fulbright U.S. Scholar teaching in Estonia. I'm the author of Peace Jobs: A Student's Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (IAP 2016). I've been married to my best friend for over 31 years and we have two well adjusted adult children who teach me something new everyday. I live in Rockville, Maryland.

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