Peace. It’s a feeling of tranquility, a sense of calm that descends upon visitors from the first moment they walk through the doors of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice. The distinctive building has taken on a life of its own, bringing people and organizations with a common vision to the University of San Diego campus.
Inside, a staff that’s grown from four to 15 has spent five years on groundbreaking work that aims to foster peace, cultivate justice and create a safer world, to paraphrase the IPJ’s mission statement.
“This building seems to be a little bit of a mecca for people,” says Executive Director Joyce Neu. “I think for us to treat this space as special — and it is — means that when people come here, they feel special. That was part of Joan Kroc’s vision.”
It was Kroc’s $25 million gift to the university in 1998 that laid the roots for the IPJ. But it was with the building’s dedication five years ago this fall — a conference that featured former President Jimmy Carter — that the institute itself began to take shape.
Kroc wanted the institute not just to incite action, but to do so on a professional level.
“One of her visions for our institute was that we provide young people with better tools, and that we actually do something about the problems that existed,” Neu remembers.
On the latter charge, the IPJ has worked to provide training, mediation and other services to promote peace in countries like Nepal, Uganda and Rwanda.
Closer to home, education efforts target the USD community and beyond through the speakers, films and other events hosted by the IPJ.
The Women PeaceMakers effort has been one of the IPJ’s more visible programs, bringing in four women each year to reflect on the work they do in their own countries. The program’s third annual conference from Oct. 18-20 will delve into the role women can have in peacekeeping, government and other sectors.
The Joan B. Kroc Distinguished Lecture Series provides another visible forum for weighty issues. This fall’s scheduled speaker, Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi of Iran, is an outspoken proponent of human rights. Indeed, Ebadi was threatened with arrest in Iran in recent months.
The institute has developed affiliations with dozens of organizations, including the United Nations Economic and Social Council.
“Through our status at the United Nations, through the Women PeaceMakers, through our work in Nepal and Uganda, USD has a presence in countries that normally it wouldn’t,” Neu says.
USD students involved with IPJ learn about human rights, conflict assessment and mediation of international conflicts.
“Exposure to this field is not easy to get,” Neu says. “I think the IPJ helps open doors for a lot of the USD community — students and our interns — in terms of their future careers.”
At the tender age of five, the IPJ is already living up to Kroc’s vision, which she articulated during the building’s dedication: “This is a place not just to talk about peace, but to make peace.”