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First U.S. College of Peace Studies To Be Established at the University of San Diego

Political leaders, including former South African President Nelson Mandela, South African judge and wartime prosecutor Richard Goldstone and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, have all walked the halls of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego.

The institute has seen its share of renowned leaders, delegates, military generals and Nobel Peace Prize nominees and recipients. It has been a place where men have come together to talk about the realities of world peace.

But it is also a center for women peacemakers to congregate and discuss peace negotiation strategies and share their experiences on the front lines. So it was perhaps fitting that the institute was the site for an international conference last month on gender-inclusive decision-making in regards to world peace. At the conference, officials also announced the formation of the only college in the United States dedicated to peace.

The Kroc Institute, which offers undergraduate courses under USD’s College of Arts and Sciences, will have its own dean by January, making it the first College of Peace Studies in the United States, says Dr. Dianne Aker, the institute’s interim director. The only other school of its kind is housed at Bradford University in England. USD’s institute is named after Joan B. Kroc, who presented the college with a $50 million endowment in 2003.

“It will be an amazing thing, and a great legacy for a woman that really cared,” Aker says.

Last month’s conference featured representatives from Croatia, Nepal, the Philippines, Sudan, Uganda and other countries. The conference was, in part, the result of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, which passed in 2000.

“A really essential, basic thing happened,” Aker says about SCR 1325. “The resolution said that women should be at the peacemaking table, where decisions are being made that affect their lives. The women who are peacemakers come from the grassroots. They stayed in their countries and have done something in their countries that is absolutely transformational in giving hope for the people that they work with. They face tremendous odds in this process, whether its’ bombing or gunfire.”

During an evening panel discussion on current conflicts, four women shared how they have worked for peace in their homelands.

Panelist Irene Santiago, from the Philippines, has negotiated with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF, a 2,900-troop separatist group based in Mindanao, Philippines. She says having a woman at the negotiation table makes a difference. Santiago says she employs a win-win approach when negotiating a conflict and tries to present mutually attractive compromises. But she also prepares herself to change direction when needed and is accustomed to wearing more than one hat.

“When there was a military assault on the area where the MILF stayed, it was clear that peace negotiations were not going to work,” she says. “I moved from negotiator to advocate and started the Mother’s for Peace campaign.”

Panelist Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda, regional program director for the United Nations Development Fund for Women in East Africa and the Horn, stressed that it takes more than just will and perseverance for women to make it to the negotiating table.

“What I have seen in Africa is that it is possible for women to cry with one eye and smile and celebrate with another eye, because that is exactly what is happening as we look at women making policy within the context of the efforts in Sudan, Somalia and Uganda.” she says. “Participation is a right, but it is also a means to an end. How many Darfurian women can go to Abuja, Nigeria? How many Somalian women can go to Kenya?”

During the question and answer session, one of the students in the audience posed a simple question to the panelists regarding negotiating with male leaders; “Aren’t you scared?”

In response, Santiago said the secret is to become fully knowledgeable about the conflict and to know specific strategies on “hard issues.”

“Negotiation is about compromise, you have to have a clear view of your value systems,” she said. “And to answer your question, yeah I was scared. It doesn’t mean that you don’t do what you need to do. When you are a courageous women, men don’t know what to do with you.”

Aker says educators must be prepared to respond when students show the first signs of interest in peace studies. By exposing them to the process and the people early, she says educators can expand and sustain their students’ commitment to peace negotiating.

“I think when students are exposed, they are absolutely willing,” she says. “The trick is to get students to come when all these people are available.”

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