This week and next, a student and community led group known as the Peace and Conflict Studies connections group is hosting a program known as Peace Week. The goal of the program, which organizers hope will become an annual occurrence, is to foster nonviolent change and create community through hosting a variety of lectures and events.
“I hope that people [who attend Peace Week] will gain a better understanding of what nonviolent work is,” said College first-year Alyssa Phelps, who is majoring in Politics with a Peace and Conflict Studies concentration. “There’s a lot of talk [on] Oberlin’s campus about peace being the goal and how to achieve peace, but I don’t think a lot of people know the steps and the hard work and planning it really takes to get a nonviolent event … underway.”
This desire from students and community members to understand and apply nonviolent methods and movements is what originally led to the creation of the PACS connection group in 2005 and the Peace and Conflict Studies concentration in 2009. Stephan Mayer, chair of the Psychology department and committee chair of the Peace and Conflict Studies concentration said, “Oberlin has a long history of thinking about social consciousness and how we better society, and so it seems somewhat surprising that it hasn’t been a concentration or a major before now.”
While the concentration itself is relatively new, the history of peace and conflict studies at Oberlin has much deeper roots. In the late 1980s Professor of Mathematics Bruce Pollack-Johnson taught an ExCo in peace and conflict studies. When he left the college, the ExCo ended, but an interest in peace and conflict studies remained.
Beginning in 2004, students, faculty members and community leaders such as alumnus Al Carroll, OC ’58, began leading ExCos with the purpose of working actively in an effort to create a formalized Peace and Conflict Studies concentration.
“It is an amazing thing in a way that this concentration emerged not so much from the administration or the faculty … but the students and the town. It really had a cooperation between town and gown — which is not always the case around here — and alums, like the class of 1958, giving us the endowed fund to help us,” said Mayer. “It’s exciting to see how that grassroots aspect and funding ties within the faculty … led to this coalescence of these courses and the development of this intro course that was necessary to have it be a concentration.”
For many students, this highly popular introductory course often serves as a way to gain information and become more involved with peace and conflict issues on campus.
College first-year Daniella Mostow, member of PACS, said, “I got involved with the group because I think it’s a really cool mixture of a few students with community members and it’s closely connected with faculty and staff.” The town-gown interaction also played a vital role in developing programming for Peace Week. For Reverend Greg McGonigle,?director of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, who moderated the April 18 panel on Women Interfaith Leaders in the Cleveland area, this town and college interaction is key.
“[Peace Week] build[s] bridges between the community that is here in Oberlin over the long term because there are a lot of Kendal folks, a lot of people responsible for the Peace and Conflict Studies [program], and local activists who are involved in Peace Week,” said McGonigle. “I think it provides a great connection for students and for the rest of us in the College to be working with the community around these issues, which really need to be collaborative.” Members of the PACS group are also seeking to develop relationships and create dialogue between clubs on campus.
“When I found out more specifics about Peace Week, I realized that the interfaith student council, which is another group that I am involved in, would be a really great group to bring into Peace Week. … The work that they’re doing is very much along the same lines,” said Phelps. In future Peace Weeks, Mostow hopes more of this collaboration can occur.
“This year we did it some, but we want to try and make it so … groups on campus each [hold an event] for Peace Week so we’re all collaborating,” said Mostow.