The Trans-Border Initiative

The border is the hottest issue in American politics right now — the fate of refugees, walls, and free-trade agreements, our water supply, and our families hang in the balance. The border also links the United States to a decade-long wave of violence in Mexico as severe as the worst civil wars of the last century. For millions of us, it's also home, a place we know for its warmth, creativity and dynamism. Because at Trans-Border Initiative (TBI), we see the border as an opportunity, not a crisis.

TBO at the border in 2017

TBI seeks to build sustainable peace in Mexico and the border region through community outreach, innovative pedagogy, and applied research. For twenty-five years, the University of San Diego’s Trans-Border Institute played a pivotal role in shaping positive relationships across the U.S.-Mexico border, particularly when it comes to documenting patterns of violence in our region, training local peacebuilders, and providing the general public with quality information and insight. We can do this, in part, because of our close proximity to one of the busiest and most dynamic borders in the world. No other U.S. peace studies program is immersed in a border region like the Kroc School is.

In the fall of 2019, TBI joined the Kroc Institute of Peace and Justice as the “Trans-Border Initiative” in order to strengthen our mutual capacity and magnify our impact. As TBI transitions, its core mission will stay the same — end cycles of violence and catalyze peacebuilding efforts in the border region through innovative pedagogy and applied research.

Ending Cycles of Violence

For TBI, ending cycles of violence in the border region means educating and convening to transcend the politics and prejudices that promotes violence and create injustice on both sides of the border. For instance, TBI created the Trans-Border Opportunities Certificate Program to introduce working professionals and non-traditional students to the dynamics of the border and the border region. 

U.S.-Mexico Border Fence

Previous educational programs have bought peacebuilders who serve prominent communities in our regions with very similar experiences of violence, but who have been segregated by the social, political, and cultural divides represented by “the border.” These included, veterans service organizations, immigrant’s rights groups, and refugee service providers. Ending cycles of violence also means educating the next generation of peacemakers and changemakers. Through field-based courses and applied research opportunities, Kroc School students can learn how they can build a more peaceful, more just border region in the future.

Catalyzing Peacebuilding Efforts 

As a university-based initiative, TBI seeks to provide local peacebuilders with the knowledge and skills they need to be effective, as well as playing the role of trusted interlocutor, free from local political commitments and institutional constraints.

Since 2014, we have offered free or low-cost certificate programs in areas significantly affected by violence in Mexico — like Culiacán, Sinaloa and Tijuana, Baja California. These programs serve as a teaching lab for a broad mix of students, provide incubators for local social innovations and create strong networks of peacebuilders from diverse sectors of Mexican society. TBO 2017

As part of each certificate program in Mexico, we co-design and implement a collaborative research project that mobilizes all of the participants in a common endeavor. TBI has coordinated surveys of corruption, gender-based discrimination, and the experience of non-citizen U.S. veterans. In 2017 and 2018, TBI partnered with local organizations in Tijuana to document the experience of deported U.S. military veterans and their family members in long-form ethnographic interviews. In 2019, we coordinated the first-ever independent truth commission in Sinaloa, which we hope to replicate in Tijuana and elsewhere in Mexico.

In the spring of 2020, TBI will coordinate a positive peace documentation project, as part of the certificate program that we offer in Sinaloa. The project will help profile local success stories so they can inspire others to instigate wider social change. Underlying all of this work is a commitment to work with and learn with local peacebuilders in Mexico. This is what “applied research” means to us, and what it means to be university-based peacebuilders.

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