The mention of peace often invokes images of grizzly-haired hippies asking the world to lay down its arms, hold hands and sing “Kumbaya” around a campfire. But peace and nonviolence studies can and should go deeper than encouraging citizens to get aboard the peace train. A meeting between University alum Will Travers and several professors two weeks ago has started the process to include nonviolence studies among the University’s list of minors. With the creation of a nonviolence studies minor, the University would follow in the footsteps of other institutions like University of California at Berkeley and Wayne State University that have long-established programs in peace and conflict studies. The College of Literature, Science, and the Arts curriculum committee and academic departments should facilitate the development of this interdisciplinary minor, but they must not allow the nonviolence studies minor to be a sequence of courses that tout one particular ideology.
The post-Sept. 11 political climate has turned nonviolence into a divisive geo-political issue, and the University’s endorsement of a nonviolence studies minor would likely generate harsh criticism from conservative groups that overlook the broader implications of peace and nonviolence. At the international level, discussions of nonviolence are inherently controversial because of differences of opinion on how to achieve peace.
But peace and conflict resolution encompasses local, community-based issues as well. An effective nonviolence studies minor must also include a variety of perspectives in order to take a broad, apolitical look at how nations, groups and individuals prevent and resolve conflicts. Peace is just as much about ending wars between nations as it is about ending domestic violence. The proposed minor should allow students to analyze the history of nonviolence and civil disobedience in order to further understanding of what causes conflicts within societies and how to resolve them.
Following graduation, many students will enter the Peace Corps or pursue careers with nonprofit organizations. By legitimizing their course of study in a way that a handful of courses scattered throughout several departments could not, a nonviolence studies minor would prove useful to students seeking jobs that work with issues of nonviolence and conflict resolution.
This fall, the University commemorates the 45th anniversary since President John F. Kennedy first announced plans for the Peace Corps on the steps of the Michigan Union, and it is only appropriate that it provide students an institutionalized avenue to study peace and nonviolence. Just as the University’s race and ethnicity requirement promotes racial tolerance, a nonviolence studies minor can impart the value of peace as a desirable end. Programs and classes on the study of peace and conflict resolution have been an integral part of University’s identity for decades, and a nonviolence minor would be a natural addition to its curriculum. As long as LSA ensures the minor approaches nonviolence studies without taking a political stance, the University and students should give peace a chance.