By: David J. Smith, February 16, 2015
The American frontier of the 19th century conjures up images of western towns lacking law and order, cattle drives and rodeos, not so peaceful encounters between eastern migrating “whites” and native populations, and pioneering farmers and their families staking out land claims. This imagery is particularly powerful in Oklahoma, which was long considered exclusive “Indian Territory” until opened up for settlement in 1889.
But Oklahoma is also a “frontier” in another sense: in teaching peace and conflict related education. And the trailblazer is Tulsa Community College (TCC) – the only institution of higher education in the state with a program that focuses specifically on peacebuilding.
On February 9, 2015 I had the opportunity to work with students, staff, and faculty at Tulsa Community College. Hosted by Annie Malloy, Cindy Shanks, and Rob Katz, I met with administrators, faculty, and students in examining peacebuilding approaches to learning.
The college can be proud of not only having the state’s only programmatic effort, but also graduating it’s first student: Michelle Harris, who received the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke scholarship, and is now a student in the peace studies program at Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina.
During my visit I emphasized the need to integrate the teaching of peacebuilding across the curriculum. I particularly emphasized the need to focus on “soft skills” which are frequently conflict resolution focused. Students graduating from college often lack these skills. Peacebuilding education can do much to build these aptitudes that can ensure success for students not only in their professional, but also in their personal lives.
The program has benefited from well-placed write-ups on its activities, and in particular Michelle Harris’ graduation. The Fall 2013 edition of Spotlight on TCC includes a number of articles on the program and Michelle.
Tulsa’s program recently established a peace garden, which centers on a peace pole. This video titled “International Day of Peace Celebration,” captures the spirit of the day.