Peace and Conflict: Peacebuilding in Community Colleges

Peace and Conflict: Peacebuilding in Community Colleges

October 27, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs


>>The book is actually
a collaborative effort where it reflects the
work of 23 authors. Most of them are
community college faculty from around the United States
who participated in the seminar that you referred
to that I managed at the U.S. Institute of Peace. There are 17 chapters, but in those chapters
there are countless stories of community colleges that are
doing really fantastic work. In fact, there’s a reference
in the book to your work here at Austin Community College. There are a number of
lessons from the book that I think are
important to reflect on. One of the things that I
found in working on the book and I found really very
refreshing and very reaffirming in community colleges was
the importance of applied or experiential education. We often think of experiential
education has something that we only use, you know,
occasionally or something that you use in training. But in community colleges, it’s
always been really essential to developing career awareness
and developing skills. In peace building and in
conflict resolution work, it’s really important
for students to understand actually how
to do the work on the ground. There’s something about
theory, but it’s more important to actually know what
a practitioner does. There are two chapters in the
book in particular that look at this dimension of
experiential learning. One chapter is by a colleague
at Jamestown Community College and it focuses on a simulation
that is conducted every spring and brings together about
15 community colleges. It’s called the International
Negotiation Modules Project and it brings community colleges
in across the U.S. to — each community college
acts as a separate nation and they represent
basically a hierarchical power of that country, be it
diplomats or government. And so, these countries
negotiate with each other online over the course of a semester
on particular world events. And it becomes part
of a particular class, which they operate out of. It’s really an important program
because at the end of the day, students get this identity, feeling like they’re the
president of North Korea, or maybe the beloved leader
of North Korea in that case. And they feel like they
really can understand the role of high-level diplomacy,
which helps them to develop kind of
a career frame. Another chapter in the
book references a program that takes place
in south Florida, in Indian River State College, every year that brings together
community college students that basically immerse
themselves in a four-day simulation
where they’re working actually as humanitarians
in a conflict zone. So we do role-playing and
simulations, you know, often in the college setting. But it’s usually kind
of in the classroom or it’s kind of tabletop. Here, community college students
are going and actually working in the field to get
this feel of what it’s like to be a humanitarian. Students come from
Northern Oklahoma College and Indian River State College and some other schools
engage in that. Those are just two examples, but
overall, this idea that learning by doing and when
it comes to learning about peace is really
important in community colleges.>>Can you talk about the
south Florida program? Students come from these
different community colleges and they are placed in some sort
of fieldwork in Florida; right?>>Well, they’re actually —
they come in and they all arrive as members of this fictitious
non-governmental organization called International
Humanitarian in Action. And they all arrive with
their paper and paperwork, their passports,
and they have to go through customs in an airport. And then, they’re
divided into teams. And then, what they do is they
spend 48 hours negotiating with generals and negotiating
with government officials. They have to set up a
humanitarian camp, an operation. They have to go into a prison and interview people
who have been abused. So they act a bit like an
international community, the Red Cross. So there are multiple
scenarios that they’re in. This form of learning is
sometimes thought about as — it’s complex environments. That is, conflict in complex
environments where there’s a lot of things going on at once
become really important. We often think about skill sets
as kind of singular skill sets, only applies here
or applies there. But what we have to do is we
have to get students to think about the range of
things that they have to do during a span of time. So if you think about
a situation like a natural disaster or
certainly a war situation, students who have conflict and peace building skills
can contribute a lot in that situation, but a
lot will be asked of them, multiple skills for instance.>>I can see the value of
these complex situations that are simulated for students. But that also makes me think about complex resources
that are needed…>>Right.>>…in order to provide
those opportunities. Can you talk about the resources
that these colleges use in order to provide these opportunities?>>Well, in this simulation
at Indian River State College, one of the things that
we’ve been benefited from is that the college has a
public safety complex. Now, actually most community
colleges do public safety work, so it’s the firefighters,
it’s the police, and so forth. So this public safety complex
actually has a replicated jail and has, you know, other
things that would be necessary. A village, a mock village, where
we can run activities through. So luckily, the facility’s
very nice. But frankly, it — we’ve
been looking at this for several years now. I don’t think it would
be that difficult for a community college to
run this type of simulation. Increasingly, you’re seeing
large scale simulations run to prepare for other types
of natural disasters like, you know, a chemical disaster
or something of that nature. So it isn’t so much a challenge. It does take a bit
of coordination. The other lesson
that I’ve learned through this process is
really the importance of integrating the work of peace
building and conflict resolution through many, many fields. That often there is this
notion, and this operates a bit at the four-year college level, is that there is a specific
degree in peace studies or conflict resolution and students should
seek that degree. One of the things
that I’ve learned and I think is an
important lesson is that no matter what
the discipline is that you’re studying
at a community college, be it business administration
or, you know, nursing or political science or,
you know, a range of fields, that part of it could focus
on understanding conflict and being a peace builder. One of the examples that
I know well of is — my wife teaches at a community
college in Maryland and one of the things —
and she’s nursing. She teaches nurses. So one of the things that she
has her nursing students do is that they take an exam to understand their
conflict styles. Because in nursing,
there’s often, at the professional
level lots of conflict. So she gets students to
sensitize themselves to the way that they approach conflict, the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode
Instrument is what she uses. The other thing that she did
last year was she had speakers from the International
Community of the Red Cross, because humanitarian work
is part of peace building, they come and talk to students. She actually got a grant from
somewhere in order to support that and to get community
college students to realize that upon graduation their
career trajectory could include the international. They could go work for a non-governmental
organization overseas. They’re not limited to what
goes on in the community. So nursing, for instance. I look at other fields like
certainly the humanities and the social sciences. You don’t have to have
a course in peace. You could take an English course or you could take a
religion course and infuse it with notions of understanding
and tolerance and looking at different levels of
conflict and how that works out. I know one of the
challenges is always looking at the sciences, for instance. That we think about biology and
we think about other fields. I know a number of
community colleges that have developed
peace studies programs that have incorporated, for
instance, environmental science. One of my colleagues
is the director of the peace studies program
at Delta College in Saginaw, Michigan, and it’s peace studies and environmental
science essentially. So he focuses on sustainability. So as part of his group
of faculty work on it, he brings in biologists
and other people that look at sustainability issues. Because when we think about
peace, it’s just not a matter of kind of human security. There’s an element of
environmental security. How do we protect our
environment for the future? But I think of other fields where I’ve seen innovative
things done. I mean, you look at
kind of mathematics and other science areas
that, if you look at history, the great debates over the
centuries often have dealt with issues of science. So one of the examples is you
take the situation of Galileo, for instance, and
Galileo, you know, kind of said something
very audacious. He says you know what, the
Earth is not the center of the universe, the sun is. And he was put away for
that or he was, you know, was arrested by the church. Well, if you’re teaching
an astronomy class, couldn’t you use that as an
example of a great debate that took place and how it
was resolved and the fact that conflict in
that situation rather than it becoming unmanageable
and the whole destruction coming from that, that basically
created a new view of science for the future. So I think there are lots
of examples that exist in other fields in other
disciplines that can be pulled out to show examples of how conflict can be
taught and can be looked at.>>Okay. Can you talk a
little bit about what you see as the benefit for students? So if students are coming
here to just get their degree and transfer or get
their degree and go work, what is the added benefit for
them to do this extra work?>>It’s a very important
question and one of the things that it acknowledges, first of
all, is that students are coming for an education because they’re
trying to develop some sort of a skill or apptitude. Increasingly, we’re
recognizing the importance of workforce development and
going to work or transferring. And so, students are
always kind of looking at what am I getting
out of this? When you study about
conflict, one of the things that you understand is not
only the world of conflict, but you learn about yourself. You learn about your
own capabilities. You learn about your
own learning styles. I mean, when we talk
about conflict, we’re also talking
about self-awareness. We’re talking about
communication skills. We’re talking about how
to engage with somebody. We’re talking about how
to work collaboratively. So for instance, in conflict
resolution we focus a lot on the idea of working as teams. If you look at a job application
today, I could almost guarantee that one of the things
will be how to work — you’ve got to be able
to work with a team. And because of the
pedagogical approaches in conflict resolution, faculty
tend to get their students to work on cooperative exercises
so they learn that idea. One of the emphasis in
conflict resolution education, peace education, is dialogue, that the model traditionally
has been debate. And that’s important, but often
we have to be able to talk to each other and
engage with each other and that’s a skill set that
comes through all this. So one of my colleagues at
Cuyahoga Community College, when they developed a peace
and conflict certificate there, they spent a lot of time looking
at what the market needed and what the market
would expect from this. And they found that the
skills that I just mentioned, this idea of collaborative
learning, self-awareness, being able to dialogue rather
than compete with someone, were really skills
that employers wanted and they wanted for
their employees. So in many respects, a conflict
resolution peace studies program is ideal to prepare
people for the workforce. It’s ideal to prepare them to
go and to succeed in a job. You know, people don’t
fail at work today because they’re incompetent
in the content. They often fail because
they’re not able to connect and to work with each other. So peace studies
really enhances that. If you’re transferring,
you know, certainly one of the added values
here, it prepares you from a critical thinking
standpoint, but also from a global
competency standpoint, to succeed at the
four-year college level. And studies have shown that
community college students, when they transfer, often
succeed at a higher rate than students who had started
in that four-year institution. Well, peace studies and conflict
resolution only enhances that possibility.>>What are some
professions that somebody who gets a four-year degree
or a two-year degree in peace and conflict studies might
be better prepared for? Or more specifically
prepared for?>>Well, I think one of the
things that I like to think about and remind myself
of kind of the reality is that most community
college graduates will stay within their community. That is, they’re tied
to their community. They will be the PTA presidents,
they will be the cops, they will be the business
owners of their community. And if I was a PTA president, I
think I would need to know how to work cooperatively. I would need to know
how to dialogue. If I’m a police officer,
I would need to know how to use a restorative
justice approach, which really brings the — often
somebody who’s been charged with a crime with the community. I think a cop often needs to do
a little bit of street mediation when they’re going and
investigating a situation so that it doesn’t escalate. Community colleges are
producing our teachers. They’re producing our nurses. They’re producing
our business owners. All of those fields are fields where those skills
can be applied. And one of the things that I — that, you know, people who studied the field
are looking for, well, the job of conflict
resolution specialist. I’m looking for that or
I’m looking for the job that says peace builder. I’m looking for the job,
you know, that’s very, very specific to what I studied. Those jobs exist, but
they’re not the prevalent jobs that are out there. It’s the jobs that
are there already that you’re interested in, that you take a different
perspective in, and you can make those jobs
different than they were, improve them, because you bring
these skill sets with you.>>What do you predict
is the future of programs in peace and conflict studies?>>Well, at the community
college level, we’ve seen a lot of growth in the last 10 years. Ten years ago, there
were a handful and today, I have a website that
I kind of list programs as they’re developing. We have nearly 30
community college programs that have some sort of peace
and conflict initiative. Some of them are credit base, some of them are
non-credit base. One of the things
that’s important about community colleges that
makes community colleges unique and often differentiates them
from four-year institutions, is their connection
to the community. That they’re — that
the community is part of the community college. There are four-year institutions
you can go to where there kind of is a fortress and there
are walls and, you know, people in the community
never get to it. But here, it’s part of it. And so, the community colleges that are doing very
community-based lectures and activities and fairs, getting the community
engaged is very important. At the community college
level, I see this increasing. I see this; it may
be incremental. I see what’s happening
as people are recognizing that in the United
States nearly 50% of American undergraduates
are in community colleges. Now, when you say that to
a four-year faculty member, they’re often shocked because
they often have no awareness of what goes on in
community colleges. But if you picked, you know, 10
random undergraduate students on the street, four to five
of them are going to be in community colleges
and those four to five students actually
are going to be the pillars of society 10 years out. If we are serious, as a society,
in creating a culture of peace and tolerance, in skilling
people with the abilities to resolve their own conflicts,
making conflict resolution and conflict transformation a
cultural and a national value, we have to be working
with community colleges. We can’t just leave this to four-year graduate
often elite programs. It’s the community
college students of today that will be the
leaders of tomorrow. So it’s really important. So I see this continuing to grow
at the community college level.>>There are two topics that
have been of much focus at ACC in the past few years for
really good reasons that I feel like are related to peace
studies and I want to take — hear your thoughts about that. One is the issue of
cultural competence.>>Mm-hmm.>>And the other is equity.>>Mm-hmm.>>As opposed to equality.>>Okay.>>So where do you see the
intersection between those and peace and conflict studies?>>Well, cultural
competence is really critical in community colleges. And what I mean by cultural
competence is really, first of all, being able to
learn about other cultures. It’s that — opening yourself
up to the opportunity to learn about another culture. And this requires levels
of skill, like listening and engagement and so forth. And then, once you learn
about another culture, working and supporting other
cultures, collaboratively to seek common goals
and common ends. One of the things that
we have to recognize is that the diversity and the
most diversity, is taking place in community colleges. That if you look nationally, certainly there are
community colleges that are not diverse
ethnically and culturally, but urban community colleges,
like Austin Community College, are very, very diverse. So when people come to this
country, to use the metaphor of when they come off
the boat, we used to say, when they come here, they’re
going to community college. They need to learn English,
they need to get a skill, they need to — they want to become an American,
whatever that means. And so, they’re bringing with them heart wrenching
stories of where they came. Many people who come to the
United States are fleeing from oppression or have been
subject to human rights abuses. And they are in a community
college classroom and often, the faculty member
doesn’t even recognize it. It’s kind of hard
to find that out. We have to create an environment
in the classroom where people who are from culturally
different environments feel safe to share their experiences. And the students that are kind
of more mainstream American have to be open to learning about
those experiences because, collectively, we’re America
of the future, you know. I think when we think
about equity, we think about the
same thing also. That is, we — looking at
populations and providing them with opportunities
and providing them with the same opportunities. And often people who
don’t have opportunities because of being disadvantaged
or being recent immigrants, doing what we can to
support those people so that they have a fair
stand in the economy and fair stand in society.>>I think that’s one of
the issues in peace studies, is getting studies to
recognize the inequity that exists in society. Often understanding that many
students in the classroom, three or four generations ago, their parents were recently
arriving to this country and are in the same state that many
of their fellow students are. So part of it is this spending
time with our students, creating a classroom
where students from elsewhere can be empowered
in the classroom and students that are already here can
learn from those students.>>Is there anything else that
you would like to share with us that I haven’t asked you about?>>Once again, I’m really
pleased to be in Austin. I think what has been going
on here is just fantastic. I know you and faculty here
have been working for a number of years to bring this together. I’m glad to see that
it’s kind of at its — at the point where it’s going to
be kind of going out the door, so to speak, and kind
of put out there. And any way that I can
support, I’m glad to do it. So good luck from here
on in and I look — hopefully will come
back again to visit.>>