Published on Tuesday, December 17, 2002 by the Minneapolis Star Tribune
For Young Activists, Peacemaking 101
by Tom Ford and Bob von Sternberg
As antiwar activists are again taking to the streets to protest a possible war with Iraq, their ranks include a growing number of protesters who are earning college degrees in peacemaking.
With textbooks called "Don't Just Stand There, Do Something" and courses on "active nonviolence" taught by professors who have been on the front lines of social causes as far back as the civil rights struggle, about 300 peace studies programs exist at more than 250 colleges nationwide.
Most peace studies programs -- which go by various monikers such as "peace and justice studies" -- analyze the causes of and histories behind war and violence, and seek ways to prevent them.
Infused with a missionary-like sense, most programs call for their students to leave the school confines and work to solve the injustices they learn about.
"Students come in here with a sense the world isn't the way it's supposed to be, and they want to know more about why that is," said Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, a member of the Justice and Peace Studies program at the University of St. Thomas.
"They bring issues like hunger and inequality into the classroom, and we encourage them in ways they can get active," he said.
About 20 students each year graduate as peace studies majors at St. Thomas. A similar number do so at St. John's University and the College of St. Benedict. There, the peace degree-seeking students must log 320 internship hours of social change activity, such as lobbying local government officials to build more affordable housing.
At St. Thomas, the peace program is closely involved with the activist campus group, the Student Coalition for Social Justice.
Last Tuesday, coalition members, peace students and some peace professors carried coffins around the campus to signal the destruction that a war in Iraq would bring.
Many local peace students have been at the center of the escalating anti-war activity. Grace Hanson, a 21-year-old St. Thomas senior, attended a protest outside the U.S. Courthouse in Minneapolis last Tuesday to oppose a military strike against Iraq, and in October she took part in a vigil at the Lake St. bridge against a possible war.
Hanson, a coordinator of St. Thomas' coalition, said the group has recently hosted several educational meetings on Iraq and has brought in speakers who have been there.
In February, coalition members -- about 80 percent of whom Hanson said have taken St. Thomas peace classes -- plan to attend a conference at the University of Minnesota to confer with other campus activist groups about strategies and coordinating actions.
'To learn how'
"Students that are drawn to [peace] classes are students that have a passion and commitment to making a difference," said Simona Sharoni, executive director of the Peace and Justice Studies Association.
The organization, run out of Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., is the professional association for the peace studies field.
"They come to us to learn how, in the same way that someone that wants to drive a car has to go and take driving lessons," Sharoni said.
For Hanson, the Sept. 11 attacks and subsequent U.S. military action against Afghanistan made her decide to major in the peace program.
"We all didn't like what was happening, but none of us knew what to do about it," said Hanson, who was studying in Namibia when the attacks occurred and the Afghan war started. "So I wanted to major in [the program] because there's so many different ways in which we study war, but there's so few ways in which we study peace."
Pass the torch
Peace studies, according to many of its practitioners and students, is more than just Protesting 101. But with a deep stress on acting upon what they've learned, many students take part in local activist groups and demonstrations.
Michael Andregg, a St. Thomas adjunct justice and peace studies professor, said the school's peace program is partly an outgrowth of an increased desire among older activists to invest in youngsters and pass the torch.
Andregg, who also runs Ground Zero, a Minneapolis-based group that produces peace education materials and visits schools around the state, said that during the 1970s, '80s and into the early '90s, activism among young adults was on the wane.
Peace programs, which often provide internships and chances to study abroad, offer students "some incentive for them to get involved," he said.
"We do a great job of helping chemists figure out how to be a chemist," he said. "And we're just learning how to help save-the-world types go out and do a better job of saving the world before we blow it all up."
Peace studies programs date back to 1948, when Indiana's Manchester College established the country's first peace studies program.
But during the civil rights movement and Vietnam era, interest in peace programs grew substantially.
As the nuclear race between the United States and the Soviet Union heated up in the 1980s, more schools instituted peace programs.
By the end of the decade, nearly 100 programs were in place. Currently more than 70 schools offer master's and doctorate degrees in peace studies.
Yet as these programs are in large measure populated by left-leaning teachers and pupils, and some question the academic qualities of the field.
The rise of peace programs has coincided with the development of several new liberal arts fields, such as ethnic or women's studies, many of which emerged from the political turmoil of the 1960s and '70s.
Katherine Kersten, a senior fellow at the Minneapolis-based conservative think tank Center of the American Experiment and a Star Tribune columnist, said the political nature of such programs makes their academic standing suspect.
"The programs are dominated by people of a certain ideological bent, and thus hard to take seriously from a scholarly point of view," Kersten said.
Robert Kennedy, a professor of Catholic studies and management at St. Thomas, said the program employs several adjunct professors "whose academic qualifications are not as strong as we would ordinarily look for."
"The combination of the ideological bite and the maybe less-than-full academic credentials of the faculty would probably raise some questions about how scholarly the program is," Kennedy said.
Several schools provide peace studies courses but don't offer degrees in the field. Many programs don't have full-time faculty, as professors from other departments teach the classes.
Not all peace studies programs or scholars agree that peace is always the preferred path. Debate exists in the field over when peace has to be weighed against justice and when nonviolence should give way to righting social wrongs.
Edmund Santurri, a St. Olaf College professor, is on the editorial board of the Journal for Peace and Justice Studies published by Villanova University.
In the journal's next edition, Santurri said, he wrote an article arguing that acts of terrorism violate principles of justifiable warfare. But, he said, implicit in his stance is that political violence can be acceptable.
"Don't get me wrong, I'm for peace," he said. "But under certain conditions I think warfare is justifiable."
On Thursday, 11 students gathered in the living room of Nelson-Pallmeyer's south Minneapolis home and discussed such legendary activists as Philip Berrigan, Dorothy Day and Ghandi. Longtime activist Marv Davidov, also on the St. Thomas faculty, regaled them with firsthand stories spanning almost half a century.
"These kids are already on the path when they come to me," Davidov said. "These students are coming faster to their radicalism than we ever did. Look out."
Student Ned Moore praised Davidov and Nelson-Pallmeyer as "great role models. At the risk of sounding like a suck-up, these guys are living out the principles of nonviolence with real passion."
Fellow student Katie Bickel thanked them for "giving me a handbook of how to be a nonviolent resister. I know now a large portion of my life is probably going to be resisting, and you've really taught us how to be effective at that."
The students disagreed over tactics of those earlier resisters, sometimes heatedly.
"It may be too much liberal haze on my part, but I've always felt it's better to wage a revolution from inside out instead of outside in," said Emily Ward. "It's better to work within the system we have, even though it's obviously flawed."
"We can't always sit around waiting for the perfect opportunity to act," Moore said. "It's easy to say things aren't perfect, but you end up doing nothing."
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