Peace and Conflict Studies rooted in Oberlin history

Katherine Hamilton, Staff Writer

Given Oberlin’s long-standing reputation for activism, it’s not surprising that many students are concerned with resolving conflict and creating positive change in the world. However, many students remain unaware that the College offers a formal track of study to aid students in these goals: the Peace and Conflict Studies concentration.

Officially offered beginning in fall 2009, the Peace and Conflict Studies concentration has been in the works for a long time. According to an article published in The Source, Oberlin students’ interest in peace began in 1840, when student pacifists banded together to form the Oberlin Non-Resistance Society. Former College President Ernest Wilkins wanted to establish a major in peace in the 1930s. But it wasn’t until 2005 that an ExCo class in peace transformed into a PACS Development Group, setting the pieces in motion for the official establishment of the concentration.

The creation of the concentration fills what had previously been a glaring need in Oberlin’s curriculum for students concerned about peace. According to College sophomore and PACS connections group president Matan Zeimer, this concentration couldn’t have come at a better time.

“We are currently living in a time of conflict, progress and renewal. People all around the world, including here in the United States, are standing up and demanding change and are beginning to reveal the many hidden conflicts that exist,” said Zeimer. “We are also witnessing many direct and violent conflicts between groups and countries and all of this setting the stage for large-scale change to occur. … There are ways to work with conflict to produce positive change and I think that the creation of the concentration has been a great step for Oberlin to take in addressing the importance of this study.”

Interest in the concentration has grown in recent years, as more and more students recognize PACS as a field highly relevant to our time. Professor and Chair of the Psychology department and Associate Professor of Politics Steve Crowley were two of the leading faculty members who developed the PACS concentration. Today, they co-teach the Introduction to Peace and Conflict Studies course, which according to Zeimer had about 40 people on the waitlist this semester.

The concentration is interdisciplinary in nature and combines a diverse range of fields including Psychology, Anthropology, Sociology, Economics, Religion, History and Politics. Depending on a student’s individual interests, African American Studies, Environmental Studies, Comparative American Studies and Art may be relevant as well. Students in the concentration work with an advisor to develop an individualized plan of study based on their own goals.

The concentration also has a strong emphasis on real-world experience, as each student is required to have at least one Winter Term, summer or study away experience related to peace. College first-years Julia Sheppard and Daniella Mostow are planning to spend Winter Term working on developing an after-school program at Langston Middle School to get local students interested in peace.

“We hope to teach the kids after school in a fun and informative way about peace, through various activities, as well as read about what other children their age have done to promote peace in their communities,” said Mostow.

In addition, students in the PACS concentration interested in planning summer projects can receive grants from the Class of 1958 Peace and Conflict Studies Endowed Support Fund. Past projects have included trips to Cuba, Kenya and El Salvador, as well as a workshop promoting community activism in Oberlin.

The PACS connections group may also use the Class of 1958 fund to bring speakers, workshops and events to campus. The group consists of students, professors and — unlike many other majors and concentrations — local community members.

“They play an important role in the group by contributing their knowledge of the community and the history of the College [and] concentration, as well as providing continuity as us students keep graduating,” said Sheppard.

Students, too, play an important role in the group, especially since the concentration is still relatively young.

“As students, we can offer a unique and important perspective, and the faculty and community members always listen to us and work with us when making decisions,” Sheppard said. “The concentration is for us, after all, and the non-student members hope to simply make it easier for us to get the most out of the ample peace and conflict resources available at Oberlin.” According to Zeimer, the group will continue to fund Winter Term projects this January and is currently planning a week-long event scheduled to occur during the spring semester.