Reflections on 2014

By: David J. Smith, December 18, 2014

Teaching about peace and the resolution of conflict became more relevant than ever this past year.   Domestic strife such as the aftermath of the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO challenged us to reexamine the means by which law enforcement is conducted in the U.S.   It also revealed weaknesses in our criminal justice system that for many of us go unnoticed.   The alignment between social justice and peacebuilding was very evident.   Global conflict and violence was by no means abated in 2014: the horrific violence in the Middle East by the Islamic State, the kidnapping of young girls in Nigeria by Boko Haram, the continued conflict in Ukraine, and most recently the killing of 145 students and teachers by the Pakistani Taliban, all continue to frustrate the international community.   The need to teach about the roots of violence and unrest will continue to be vital.

Faculty session at St. Louis Community College
Faculty session at St. Louis Community College

This is all the more important for those teaching in community colleges.   Community colleges are the most diverse higher education sector in the U.S. often enrolling students who are from places where violence is commonplace. To be peacebuilders, students first need to know about the frustration that brings about much of the violence.   Certainly, few can argue that the Islamic State is not engaged in the most inhumane forms of violence. But it is also important for us to understand how religious fundamentalism comes about, how the Islamic State’s philosophy is abhorrent to Islam, and at a deeper level, the nature of the human conditions that the Islamic State builds its support from. Likewise, in considering the frustrations coming from Ferguson, alleged police brutality is just the tip of the iceberg. More importantly, we need to get our students to better understand the social and political nature of racism that continues to plague much of our country.

Working with students at Anne Arundel Community College
Working with students at Anne Arundel Community College

During this past year, I’ve had the chance to visit colleges around the U.S. teaching peace.   Early in the year I visited with students at Solano Community College (CA) where we engaged in an activity that I often use, “Peace Not Peace,” which is from my USIP work. Working with about 40 students, they had a heated argument about the ownership of guns. Conversation, even if it looks like argument is important (especially if the alternative is no communication at all). Too often there is a lack of discussion on important issues like gun violence. Our job is to move these arguments to dialogue. In April, I worked with Scottsdale Community College (AZ) to run a faculty program looking at peacebuilding in the context of genocide awareness. Considering approaches that are preventive and healing after horrific violence will be increasingly important globally. In the spring, I also had the chance to talk to a group of “newbie” community mediators at Green River Community College (WA).   Community mediators are the “first line” when it comes to lowering tensions in many communities.   In August, I was invited to meet with students and faculty at St. Louis Community College (MO) to consider strategies moving forward post-Ferguson. I was impressed with students’ desire to use nonviolent means to increase awareness of social justice issues and reduce racism in their community. At a number of schools including at Sinclair Community College (OH) and Cuyahoga Community College (OH), I focused on considering skills based in conflict resolution that can be applied in both work and personal lives. This is just a snapshot of my experiences this past year that I grateful for.   Traveling around the U.S. is a great educational experience for me, and leaves me with hope that the next generation of peacebuilders will be well prepared to deal with challenges of the future.

Visiting USIP during the 2nd National Community College Peacebuilding Seminar
Visiting USIP during the 2nd National Community College Peacebuilding Seminar

A major highlight of the year was hosting the 2nd National Community College Peacebuilding Seminar at Northern Virginia Community College.   We brought together 36 faculty from 16 colleges in 12 states to explore teaching and learning about peace. We will be hosting our 3rd conference October 16-19, 2015. So mark your calendars!

Working with students at Butte College
Working with students at Butte College

Working with Northern Virginia Community College, we are also planning a 2-½ day program on global health issues. Titled “Global Health Crises, Pandemics, and Policy Challenges,” the program will explore the need to teach global public health in community colleges. We anticipate having speakers from Médecins Sans Frontières, the CDC, the World Health Organization, and trainers from the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. This will be held April 9-11, 2015. Registration information will be posted on my website in early January.

I continue to post on my blog regularly. This is my 111th post. I appreciate those who read it regularly.   If you are interested in posting about something innovative that your school is involved in during the coming year, let me know.

I am thankful for the many colleagues and friends who support my work and invite me to visit their schools.   I’m glad to play a role in building a network of community college educators working for peace.

Have a peaceful, restful and enjoyable holiday, and a prosperous New Year. See you in 2015. Peace on Earth!

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