Give peace a (scholastic) chance

At a time in which many regions of the world are embroiled in dark, unending conflict, it seems that the concept of peace is a foreign one. A handful of USF students, however, want to bring peace back into the vernacular.

The members of USF’s Peace at Large organization are trying to bring peace to campus. These students, with majors ranging from engineering to dance to anthropology, are working to make their dream of a peace studies major a reality. It hasn’t been an easy road.

“To be perfectly honest, we are in the very early stages of doing this,” said James Hudson, a biology and international studies major and president of Peace at Large. “We’re working on building support and figuring out where that support is from both the student populace and the faculty populace.”

Vice president of Peace at Large, Jessie Barber, said the first step would be to establish peace studies as a certificate program to demonstrate the level of interest among USF students.

Thus far, it seems that the interest is out there.

“The overwhelming response is: ‘That’s awesome, keep me updated. I’d love to see this happen,'” Hudson said.

Changing the idea of what peace means is a key component to gaining momentum and support for the peace studies program.

“For this program, we’ve had to redefine the term ‘peace,'” Barber said. “Up until now, it’s been sort of an anti-war definition. We’re looking more towards a ‘sustainable relationships’ definition on multiple levels.”

Hudson agrees.

“We normally have a very anxious peace where people are ready to go at one another’s throats and that is really not peace,” she said.

Aside from making sure there’s enough interest, the concern is funding. With budget cuts the norm, Hudson and Barber understand that they’ll have to get a little creative.

“We are seeking outside funding because we understand that in this environment, it’s not going to get funded,” said Hudson.

Hudson and Barber know it’s going to be an uphill battle, but they’re not letting that slow them down. They and the members of Peace at Large see a dire need for a peace studies program at USF.

Franz Villate transferred from New Jersey to USF last year to study civil engineering and said he strongly believes in bringing a peace studies program to USF, even if he’s graduated by the time it starts.

“I’m interested in peace, too, because if you ever notice, peace is not taught,” Villate said. “You don’t see it everywhere. It’s not cool to be peaceful, it’s not in the culture. So we have to start somewhere, that’s why I believe in this group. I believe it’s like a foundation.”

Teaching peace is an idea that is catching on at universities across the country. Duke, Cornell, and Tufts are the top institutions that offer a complete degree in some version of peace studies. In Florida, Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale offers graduate-level degree programs in dispute resolution, an area of peace studies.

An undergraduate course at USF would bring together classes already available. To embody a full understanding of peace, the program would draw several courses from the anthropology department and international studies, Barber and Hudson said. But the most important part would be building actual interpersonal relationships.

“Because such a big part of (peace studies) is not just the academics, but also moving out into the real world and learning about real-world issues, through real-world experiences,” Hudson said. “It’s hard to describe the transformation that can come about by just talking to homeless people or people who have been in this or that conflict.”

Barber sees a personal benefit in learning about peace.

“For me, being 22 years old and having to figure out how to deal with things in a peaceful manner and growing up in a so-called peace-loving society, I think it’s something I should have learned a lot earlier on,” Barber said. “Just something as simple as conflict resolution can go a long way.”