January 29, 2015

Seeking Peace and Transformation

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Seeking Peace and Transformation

Professor Mary Trujillo with students

Dr. Mary Trujillo is one of the primary faculty members for the conflict transformation studies program, teaching courses that include Conflict and Community and Mediation.

Conflict transformation studies major launched in Fall 2014

CHICAGO (January 29, 2015) — For North Park students, the second weekend of May is often one of celebrating the close of the school year with friends and family. Many pack up to head home for summer jobs or move to new places to begin careers after graduation.

This year, for 15 students, that weekend will begin a unique international study trip to Northern Ireland—the first trip offered as part of the University’s new conflict transformation studies major. Students and faculty in the International Conflict Transformation course will dive deeply into the forces of history, religion, and art in the experience of conflict. The group will partner with the Junction, a peacebuilding and community service organization in Derry, Northern Ireland. Their itinerary includes walking tours of public murals that are statements of both suffering and transformation; experiences of how music and art interact with spiritual dynamics in conflict; and conversations with community leaders and ex-combatants on trauma, understanding, healing, and reconciliation.

“We’re going to listen, to learn, and to observe,” says Dr. Robert Hostetter, professor of communications and co-director of the conflict transformation studies program. He hopes this trip will be an academic experience that builds connections between theory, practice, and the real-life complications of creating peace in a challenging landscape.

The questions in conflict

Conflict transformation studies began as an undergraduate certificate at North Park ten years ago and transitioned to a full undergraduate major in Fall 2014. The major offers interdisciplinary courses that tackle the pressing questions that emerge out of conflicts in places from Northern Ireland to Chicago, and the Middle East to Ferguson, Missouri: How do communities in conflict begin the process of healing? Where do individuals find safe avenues to express the experience of living through conflict? What good can come out of tension, anger, or misunderstanding? Can we really create peace?

“Conflict is a universal experience—even though we don’t want it to be,” says Dr. Mary Adams Trujillo, professor of communications and co-director of the program. Students who are drawn to conflict transformation studies are expressing their desires to “change the world” and are people of compassion, grounded in a belief that there can be a way in the world better than conflict, she says.

Carmen Velazquez, a junior in the program, agrees with Trujillo’s assessment. “Conflict is part of our everyday life. It doesn’t matter what socioeconomic class you belong to, your gender, the color of your skin, or your race: conflict will always be around,” she says. “Conflict transformation teaches us to not try to remove conflict but to transform it into something positive and greater.”

Working for justice in communities

David Potter is one of the first conflict transformation studies majors at North Park and will graduate in December 2015. He came to the University after working at a nonprofit organization with youth and under-resourced communities. “While I was not aware of it at the time, the opportunities to work in several marginalized and neglected domestic communities—from large- and small-scale urban areas, to Native American reservations and Appalachian coal mining towns—instilled a desire to create healing spaces of justice and restoration.”

Velazquez also identifies a desire for social justice work as the driving factor in choosing the conflict transformation studies major. She grew up in an immigrant community in the Central Valley of California, and is preparing for a career in community organizing to advocate for her people. “This program has allowed me to realize the many issues in my own community; it has empowered me to strive for positive change.”

The work that Potter and Velazquez dream of is what is often referred to as “track two diplomacy,” or public diplomacy and hands-on conflict transformation efforts, according to Hostetter. Conflict transformation students learn the relational skills that allow them to work in long-term, sustainable community initiatives, not necessarily high-level political diplomacy that is focused on negotiation and resolving conflict. “We call this a conflict transformation program—not conflict resolution—because it is relationally focused,” he says. “Relationships are transformed, not resolved.”

Creative approaches to hard questions

North Park’s setting in Chicago provides a rich backdrop for students to gain hands-on experience learning about conflict in urban and international relationships. Students in the Community and Conflict course organize an annual one-day peace conference. The Performance and Social Change class does an ethnographic study of personal experiences around a particular topic in order to create a public performance that sparks conversation and action.

“Conflict transformation is evolving as we speak,” Trujillo says. New relational and creative approaches continue to emerge as the field broadens. Along with studying the history and context of global conflicts, courses provide opportunities for students to conduct research and analysis, and gain more self-awareness in an effort to pursue creative, nonviolent approaches to help in conflict situations.

In one course, Trujillo has her students create three-dimensional models that represent peace. “I tell students, ‘You’ve imagined it, you’ve created it with your hands. Now we’re going into communities to work on peace with people.’ I really believe that we can make a difference, that students can create peace,” she says.

Professors Trujillo and Hostetter invite their students to explore creative models of strategic peace building like these with the hope of equipping students to be advocates for positive change in global, national, and local communities.

Though the major is new, Velazquez’s testimony affirms that the program is on the right track. She says her courses have opened her eyes to conflict outside of her personal experience. “Coming from a rural community, I wasn’t aware of major conflicts that happen throughout the United States or all the injustices in the city of Chicago. Knowing that there are others also fighting for social justice helps me to acknowledge the power of my own voice and actions.”


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