UNIVERSITY OF SAN DIEGO / Spring 2007
Blessed are the Peacemakers
Training graduates to cool off global hot spots isn't easy, but the IPJ and recipients of USD's Master's in Peace Studies are up to the task
by Barbara Davenport

Stand at one of the doors to the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice. Look up. Above the lintel, a dove carved in stone carries an olive branch. If you stand at the other door and look up, you’ll see Astraea’s scale, ancient symbol of justice. These carvings testify to the conviction shared by Joan Kroc and the institute itself that peace and justice are deeply linked, and that one is impossible without the other. Every speaker and conference and program at the institute, every peace initiative its staff and graduates make, from Uganda to Bosnia to Southeast San Diego, is built from this fundamental knowledge: fairness, inclusiveness and respect are the basis of peace. Five years into its mission, the institute teaches this conviction both on-campus and on the ground in some of the world’s most troubled places.Since it opened its ornately carved doors in December 2001, the IPJ has become a respected instrument of peacemaking in the world. Conversations with staff, graduates, faculty, current students and guest scholars reveal how the institute connects with the campus and how it works at building peace in hot spots around the world.

The IPJ’s simultaneous engagement with USD’s academic mission and with its global mission is embodied in its campus presence. The curving entrance plaza is planted with daylilies and roses and graced with a flowing fountain. The two wings of the institute reach out to the rest of the university grounds. On the building’s west side, the Garden of the Sea meditation garden and reflecting pool look out to San Diego, the Pacific Ocean and the world.

The structure’s dramatic rotunda, along with its auditorium, conference rooms, production studios and negotiation center are all designed to serve national and international constituencies. The second floor brings the international work home to the campus; that’s where the departments of history and political science have their faculty offices, as well as eight classrooms. Kathryn Statler, associate professor of history and coordinator for the undergraduate minor in peace and justice, is delighted with this arrangement. She says that students who come for classes or to meet with professors become aware of events organically. And they’ve so come to see the building as theirs that when security is increased for an international newsmaker or a former U.S. president, they’ve been known to grumble about the intrusion in their space.

As part of Peace and Justice 101, a basic course for the 18-unit minor in peace and justice, Statler requires her students to attend three IPJ events. Students come to the minor with questions about war and peacemaking, and want to learn the nuts and bolts of how societies go about rebuilding after conflict. “They get their eyes opened,” she says. Students come away with a deeper understanding once they’ve had up-close contact with generals and legislators, heads of state and Nobel laureates, people who’ve been in the thick of peacemaking efforts.

This fall, Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer and peace activist who was awarded the Nobel prize in 2003, came to the campus as part of the IPJ’s Distinguished Lecture Series. 1,800 people heard her speak in the Jenny Craig Pavilion. But Statler and 30 USD undergraduate students had a private meeting with Ebadi, including a free-flowing question-and-answer session in the IPJ.

The master’s program in Peace and Justice Studies, an intensive inter-disciplinary program emphasizing ethics, international affairs and conflict resolution, admits 12 students a year. Its graduates work for non-govern-mental organizations (NGOs), in university settings, in multinational corporations and elsewhere. In San Diego, one 2003 master’s graduate used what he learned to build Reality Changers, a program to support first-generation college students.

The institute and the university’s academic programs will become linked even more closely soon, once the first dean of the new School of Peace Studies arrives on campus. His task list includes expanding the current Peace and Justice minor into a full undergraduate major, and increasing the scope of the existing master’s program. Like the IPJ, the school will serve both the campus and the wider world. Its charge is “to advance peace and justice through the development and dissemination of interdisciplinary scholarship and state of the art practice to serve the region, the nation and the world-wide human community.” The IPJ will then become part of the School of Peace Studies, and its executive director, Joyce Neu, will report to the dean.

Building Peace and Hope at Home

by Barbara Davenport

When Chris Yanov started the master’s program in peace and justice studies, he’d already spent five years in a war zone — the Golden Hill neighborhood of San Diego. Through the Hispanic Presbyterian Church he’d worked with members of two warring gangs (“just me and all these baldheaded guys”), and he knew he needed to learn more about peacemaking.

Rich in experience and full of strong opinions, his 12 classmates in the master’s class of 2003 (the program’s first) bonded in a tight, supportive group that Yanov feels was the most valuable aspect of the program. “I still have them all in my head,” he says. “I’m not limited to my own perspective. When I have a decision to make, I think about what each one of them would say.”

Yanov wanted something positive to offer the teens he’d worked with, something they could work toward. “We said no drugs, and no gangs, but we needed something they could say yes to.” Drawing on his new peacemaking skills, he built a program that promised a route to college. Reality Changers set high standards. Students had to attend weekly sessions for tutoring in study skills and academics. And they had to stay drug free. If they missed a week, they were out. If they tested dirty, they were out. He brought kids from the barrio to a three-week summer immersion program in order to open their eyes as to what college could offer. But here’s what he offered: Stay with the program through high school, and we’ll guarantee you a full scholarship to any college you get into.

They said yes.

Five years later, Reality Changers has 23 students on full scholarship at four-year universities, every one of them the first in their family to attend college. Executive Director Chris Yanov calls this, “peacemaking close to home.”

Endowing the IPJ was a direct reflection of Joan Kroc’s longstanding commitment to peacemaking. Her vision of a peace institute at USD evolved through the ‘90s, in continuing conversations with then-President Alice Hayes. Both saw the institute as a concrete statement of Catholic social teachings that see peace as inseparable from justice.

Kroc wanted USD to engage with the whole world. In 1998, she gave the university $25 million to build a facility that would include a conference center, classrooms, meeting facilities and a residence to house visiting scholars, as well as start an institute to do this work.

While the institute’s home was being built, Kroc frequently came to campus. Dee Aker, interim director, remembers that Kroc would park near the construction site, and when the weather was good, she’d sit on a bench and watch the work. “She didn’t come into our offices, and she never told us how to build it,” Aker remembers. “You could look out the window and see her sitting there, and just know how much she cared.”

The mission statement published at the groundbreaking ceremonies describes Kroc’s vision: “ … to establish harmony, safety and hope in a context of mutual respect and fairness in international, national and local communities. Through its peace studies, research and outreach programs, the Kroc Institute will creatively promote conflict resolution, non-violence and cross-cultural harmony in a setting where scholars, students, activists and political leaders can study, reflect and exchange in dialogue.”

Kroc made her vision for the institute crystal clear at the building’s dedication in December of 2001: “We must not only teach peace, but make peace.”

That vision has guided the institute’s work for its first five years. Joyce Neu of the Carter Center, which is committed to advancing human rights and alleviating suffering with health and peace programs, became director in 2000. Neu, Aker and other IPJ staff have traveled frequently to Nepal and Uganda to participate directly in peacemaking and planning. The U.S. Agency for International Development confirmed the institute’s standing in the international community when it awarded a major grant for its in-country project, “Building Constituencies for Peace and Democratic Development in Nepal.”

The IPJ also organizes conferences and programs that bring peacemakers to campus, most notably the Women PeaceMakers Program, which program officer Diane Kutlow calls “the heart of the IPJ.” This initiative, unique to the institute, grew from Aker’s work in Uganda, where, in the wake of a brutal civil war, she saw that “women were holding society together, literally rebuilding their country,” yet they were excluded from the talks aimed at promoting peace.

The program recognizes that women on the front line of efforts to end violence and secure a just and peaceful solution seldom record their activities and insights, primarily because they have no time or, sometimes, insufficient formal education to record their stories. Each year, the institute invites four women who’ve made significant contributions to peace, social justice and civil society in their own communities to come to campus for an eight-week stay, in which they can document, share and build upon their unique peacemaking stories.

Being invited to take part in the program, which covers transportation and the costs of the stay, is a significant honor and an internationally recognized validation of the importance of their work.

The most recent crop of PeaceMakers came from Kosovo, Serbia, Afghanistan and Sudan. Palwasha Kakar of Afghanistan created a secret home school for girls at a time when the Taliban forbade girls any schooling, and she smuggled texts in, using copies of the Koran. Shukrie Gashi, a lawyer, poet and mediator, drafted laws for mediation, property and housing, and gender equality for the newly liberated Kosovo.

The Women PeaceMakers have usually worked in hostile conditions, often in great personal danger. For each, her stay at the institute has been a welcome chance to step away from work, to slow down and reflect. They live in Casa de la Paz, a comfortable two-story guesthouse that opens onto the Garden of the Sea. Serbia’s Svetlana Kijevcanin gestured around her room cluttered with papers, books and pamphlets, and grinned. “It’s wonderful to be here, to have a chance to think about what I’ve done.”

Each PeaceMaker is paired with a writer who’s schooled in international affairs, and also works with a filmmaker to document her work. The films and the written documents, as well as the women’s public presentations during their stay, make their work visible to a wider audience, confirming its importance to themselves and the community.

As USD’s School of Peace and Justice grows and more students take courses and major in peace and justice studies, the institute’s international and local peacemaking efforts will become even more visible and influential on a worldwide basis. In just five years, the vision of Joan B. Kroc has begun to manifest itself in far-reaching ways, to the enrichment of USD, the IPJ and the world.wider audience, confirming its importance to themselves and the community.

As USD’s School of Peace and Justice grows and more students take courses and major in peace and justice studies, the institute’s international and local peacemaking efforts will become even more visible and influential on a worldwide basis. In just five years, the vision of Joan B. Kroc has begun to manifest itself in far-reaching ways, to the enrichment of USD, the IPJ and the world.

The Power of Stories

by Barbara Davenport

Rebecca Joshua Okwaci believes in the power of stories. The tall, slender woman with lilting speech and infectious laugh is a journalist and executive producer for Sudan Radio Service. She’s spent her professional life telling the stories of her country’s 50-year-long civil war and its tortured progress toward peace.

She’s been part of the revolution against Sudan’s dictatorial Muslim government and she’s worked for women’s economic empowerment. With Sudanese Women’s Voice for Peace, she developed the first peacebuilding and conflict resolution programs and trainings in the Shilluk Kingdom in Christian southern Sudan. She’s lived in exile in Kenya, where work and war have often separated her from her husband and her children.

“I needed my story told,” she says. “It is the story of peacemaking among Sudanese women who managed to accept their differences and agree to move forward in the search for peace in their war-torn country.”

She’d never found time to tell her own story before. She worked long hours reporting, often in war zones. At night she cared for her children and for a stream of women who knew of her peace work and came to seek her advice and collaboration. She used vacation time to work with women’s peacebuilding organizations in Sudan and Kenya and international NGOs.

Coming to the IPJ as a Woman PeaceMaker has felt for Okwaci both like a luxury and like an urgent necessity. Exhaling a long sigh, she says, “I never thought that in my life I would have the opportunity to sit down in a peaceful environment.”

She’s welcomed the time to slow down, talk with other women chosen for the program, and reflect on her work. In conjunction with peace writer Susan Van Schoonhoven, she’s found memories emerging, and with them, renewed hope. The opportunity offered by the IPJ to document her own story has deepened her conviction that stories can empower people.

At the program’s end in mid-November, Okwaci left for Sudan to reunite with her family, carrying with her a new determination to tell the stories of her country’s women, its heroes and peacemakers.