Inside USD

Peace Building Gets Boost from New Program

Monday, December 20, 2010

A decade ago, Joan B. Kroc ignited the conversation and a directive for a new institute in her name on the University of San Diego campus. Her wish was for it to be where people “not only talk about peace, but make peace.”

Ten years later, the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice continues to heed its late benefactress’ request. The IPJ has hosted and dialogued with high-ranked government officials at local, national and international levels; faculty and staff have engaged in key research and relationship building in some of the most challenging places to achieve peace; championed and hosted Women PeaceMakers from war-torn countries; houses the Trans-Border Institute which has examined U.S.-Mexico border issues since 1994; brought high school students into the peace discussion through WorldLink; and regularly invites peace and social justice scholars and activists to build awareness and inspire more to act.

But it is the development of student peacebuilders, specifically through the Kroc School of Peace Studies and its master of arts degree in peace and justice studies, where USD’s contribution can be most visibly measured. Designed for those with three to five years of experience, 91 students from all over the world have graduated from this intensive 12-month program since 2003.

Lee Ann Otto, KSPS associate dean and director of the master’s program, smiles when she thinks about the yearlong track’s graduates. But, a few years ago, it was also evident that there was still something missing.

“As the program began, we realized there were a lot of passionate, bright students coming out of school, who were really interested in our program but just didn’t have that kind of experience,” Otto said. “It just didn’t feel right to have students go through the program, get a master’s in peace and justice studies and have no experience at all.”

That changed in August 2009 and became official when seven peacebuilders  — appropriately, all women  — started and then became the inaugural graduation class of the KSPS’ 17-month MA program track on Dec. 15, 2010. Kathryn Whitlow, Carissa Western, Breyn Hibbs, Veronica Geretz, Vivien Francis and Lisa Barnhill each presented their capstone projects in the IPJ Theatre. One student, Tiffany Robertson (pictured, third from left), will do her presentation in the spring.

Of the seven, two are international students — Francis is from Guatemala and Western is from Kenya — the rest are from the U.S. The biggest difference between the 12- and 17-month programs is the internship requirement for the latter. The hope is for each student to do the internship internationally, but circumstances forced one student, Barnhill, to do it with a San Diego-based organization. Two students, Francis and Whitlow, worked in India, Western went to Kenya, Hibbs visited Nepal and Geretz was in Sierra Leone. Robertson’s internship was split between Missouri and Rwanda.

“I’m always excited when a group finishes, but I think this group is particularly exciting because they didn’t have the experience coming in. I see the major transformation they went through doing their internships. It’s an exciting change in our program,” Otto said.

Here’s a brief look at each of the capstone projects:

• Francis examined peace education and how it could be utilized through a method called participatory photography. This method enables participants “to engage in actions based on a process of observation and increasing awareness, thereby building social skills to become positive agents of change in their own groups, community and society.” Francis’ internship was with Navsarjan Trust in Gujarat, India. Upon her return to USD, she also worked with the San Diego-based AJA Project to further develop this concept.

“I think it was an amazing avenue to integrate technology into the classroom in a meaningful way,” Francis said. “We have to start challenging and education the generation that has been born in this technology age.”

• Geretz (pictured, right) did a case study on the role of yoga in trauma transformation in post-conflict Sierra Leone. Geretz worked through the Fambul Tok organization in Freetown for three months, but was only able to work closest with 14 residents in a six-week period. She did conduct a pre- and post-questionnaire to measure the effectiveness of her study. Though disappointed to only have six weeks, she was happy with the improvements shown in the post-questionnaire. She was also happy to report that four months after returning to USD that two people she helped train have kept the program going, giving her something tangible.

“It’s the best feeling, the most fulfilling experience I’ve ever had,” Geretz said. “To know they’re going to have something potentially for the rest of their life just shows you how powerful and influential every interaction you have with people is.”

• Western’s project examined human rights and development challenges faced by “nomadic” pastoralist women in Kenya through access to education. Western worked with two organizations, the League of Pastoral Women in Kenya and Maasai Yes for Disabilities. Her capstone focused on gender disparities in education in terms of access, achievement and outcome and exploring the implications of those gaps for the rights and welfare of these women and future generations.

• Barnhill examined the perceived conflict between human security and national security. Barnhill interned in San Diego with the St. Vincent de Paul’s Mobile Health Clinic. She used the internship to explore an “interconnected conversation that can act to synergize the actions of both disciplines.” She used case studies ranging from Agent Orange in Vietnam and the continued used of depleted uranium in Iraq and focus on long-term health consequences and connect it to national security.

• Whitlow’s capstone focused on the abuse and discrimination faced by Dalit or “untouchable” children in India, specifically involving the government’s primary school system in Gujarat. She did her research work through an internship with Navsarjan Trust. Whitlow’s research included 117 interviews describing how Dalit children were treated and how they faced abuse simply because of their caste standing.

• Hibbs’ project examined discrimination against widow in majority-Hindu communities and societies in South Asia. She brought up the point that one’s martial status is not protected from discrimination in several policies, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights or Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Hibbs did her internship with the Child and Women Empowerment Society in Pokhara, Nepal.

For each of the women, the 17-month journey brought new, unique and challenging experiences their way, but Francis said it was a rewarding opportunity that puts her on the road to making peace.

“It’s a life-changing experience to see the world from a different perspective,” she said. “You realize that power is in your hands and you can be that agent of change you want to see. To create a better world, we don’t have to wait for someone else to do it for us.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

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