“It is possible to conceive conflict as not necessarily a wasteful outbreak of incompatibilities, but a normal process by which socially valuable differences register themselves for the enrichment of all concerned.”
This quote by Mary Parker Follet is a favorite for Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies Assistant Professor Ami Carpenter. A central theme in her classes — Analysis and Resolution of Violent Conflict, Interpersonal and Small Group Conflict Resolution, and Foundations of Peace and Justice — is to shift our view of what conflict means.
“Conflict is a situation in which people involved perceive that they have incompatible goals and perceive a threat to their needs, interests or concerns. I can’t drive down the road without technically being ‘in conflict’ with a couple of the cars around me,” she laughs, adding, “it’s how we respond to those situations that matters.” Her year-long study in Baghdad, Iraq found that sectarian violence was linked to spikes in the perceived threat of “the Sunni or Shia Other.”
Carpenter was born in Arkansas, the middle child of 10 siblings. “I learned conflict resolution at a very young age,” she says jokingly. Named one of the “50 to Watch” by San Diego Magazine and entering her fourth year at USD this September, Carpenter has studied and participated in conflict resolution efforts here in San Diego, and abroad in Guatemala and Iraq. The projects share a focus on preventing youth violence, and encouraging community resilience to violent conflict. “In cities with sectarian divides like Baghdad, or gang-related divides like Santa Cruz in Guatemala or San Diego, it’s the strength of relationships and connections between people that prevent violent clashes and over time lead to real peacebuilding,” she says, quoting a Chinese proverb: “Tell me, I may listen. Teach me, I may remember. Involve me, I will do it.”
In San Diego, Carpenter emphasized the importance of supporting gang prevention efforts. In addition, she heads a research project that studies gang presence and activity in San Diego and Tijuana. Its purpose is to help U.S. and Mexican agencies understand gang and large criminal organization connections and to interrupt gang-related violence and human trafficking. Carpenter has also worked as a research consultant with the San Diego Commission on Gang Prevention and Intervention (SDCGPI) for the past three years.
Last year, and again next spring, Carpenter and KSPS will host the Gang Prevention and Intervention Summit. “The 2012 summit is about building community connections by region — North/North Inland County, Imperial Beach, District 8, Chula Vista, East County — and to highlight police and community working together in partnership,” she says. “The Kroc School of Peace Studies is proud to work with and support peacebuilders wherever they live, whether in San Diego communities or war-torn cities halfway around the world.”
— Melissa Wagoner