Applied Peace Education in Mexico

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Applied Peace Education in Mexico

Trans-Border Institute (TBI), University of San Diego

(Original article: Trans-Border Institute)

How can universities teach peacebuilding to people in dangerous situations without resorting to hand-wringing paternalism or simply using other people’s misfortunes as teachable material?

How can we empower people facing chronic violence to define and solve their own problems, rather than imposing solutions from abroad (which are almost certain to fail)?

How can students get involved in peacebuilding in substantive ways, doing something more than community service or volunteering?

At the Trans-Border Institute (TBI) we believe that the most effective solutions to the most pressing problems of peace and justice in Mexico will come from the communities most affected.  They understand the problems and potential solutions better than any outside analysis.  But, they also need encouragement, training, and research infrastructure from unbiased sources, outside of their own political and social constraints, to realize their potential.

To this end, TBI has developed interactive educational and capacity building programs in the areas of Mexico hardest hit by the drug war and the dislocations of the border. Our seminars and certificate programs are designed to cultivate the next generation of peacebuilders in Mexico and the border region by leveraging existing institutional strengths against the most pressing peace and justice issues.

Graduate students from the Kroc School of Peace Studies and undergraduates from across the University of San Diego participate in all aspects of the design, implementation, and analysis of our field-based courses.  They study the issues and their social contexts; they travel to Mexico as part of the TBI team, where they facilitate discussions and collaborate on research projects with civil servants, the leaders of local NGOs, and other university students; and they help us to analyse the data and results of our work at the conclusion of each teaching module.

TBI offers seminars and certificate programs in Applied Peace Education in partnership with local universities, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations.  Our local partners provide much of the infrastructure for the courses, including: public relations, space, and academic registration and credit.  We provide academic expertise, peacebuilding experience, and research infrastructure.  So far, we have completed programs in Tijuana and Mexicali, Baja California; and Culiacán, Sinaloa; and we have plans underway for programs in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua; San Cristóbal de la Casas, Chiapas; and San Diego, California. These programs are designed for aspiring civic leaders, civil servants, and university students interested in strengthening civil society and building sustainable peace in Mexico and the border region.

Who do we serve?

Seminar series Local partners Certificates granted Local participants

Tres seminarios en la construcción de paz

Culiacán, Sinaloa

Spring 2015

Facultad de Derecho, Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa (UAS), Comisión Estatal de Derechos Humanos, Sin. 67 16 local NGOs, and university faculty and students from the UAS, ranging in age from 19 to 67.

Tres seminarios en la construcción de paz


Fall 2015

Instituto de la Judicatura del Poder Judicial de Baja California, Comisión Estatal de Derechos Humanos, B.C. 61 12 NGOs from northern B.C., c.35 lawyers, judges, and civil servants, and c.18 university faculty and students (To be confirmed by exit survey)

Tres seminarios en la construcción de paz

Tijuana, B.C.

Spring 2016

Instituto de la Judicatura del Poder Judicial de Baja California; Comisión Estatal de Derechos Humanos, B.C.; Instituto de Investigaciones Jurídicas UNAM; Casa de la Cultura Jurídica, B.C. 100 30 spots for university students, artists, and cultural orgs; 35 spots for local NGOs; 30 spots for lawyers, judges and civil servants; 5 spots for UNAM faculty

Diplomado en la educación de paz aplicada

Culiacán, Sinaloa

Spring 2016

Facultad de Derecho, Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa (UAS), Comisión Estatal de Derechos Humanos, Sin. 62 No specific assignment of spots; discount offered to participants in previous seminars and local NGOs

Diplomado en la educación de paz aplicada

Baja California (Tijuana, Mexicali y Ensenada)

Fall 2016

Instituto de la Judicatura del Poder Judicial de Baja California, Comisión Estatal de Derechos Humanos, B.C.,

Instituto de Investigaciones Jurídicas UNAM, and Centro Cultural Tijuana



20 spots for university students, artists, and cultural orgs; 20 spots for local NGOs; 20 spots for lawyers, judges and civil servants

The composition of the classroom is as important as the content of the curriculum. Participants range from 19 to 67 years old – the average is about 40 – and they come from a wide variety of professional and educational backgrounds. The interactive group exercises at the core of our pedagogy encourage participants to work together as equals towards common goals and on tight deadlines. This experience, in turn, helps to cement new civic partnerships, ventures, and respect across a variety of professional and social divides.

The seminar series unfold during thirty hours of seminars, in three segments (one weekend each). They explore: how to use human rights to realize our potential as human beings, different models of peacebuilding to realize our potential as citizens, and an historical perspective to realize our potential as a society active in the present and committed to a better future. The certificate program begins with the same three modules, but then adds four additional seminars in conflict resolution, social innovation, digital art and technology, and sustainability, for a total of ninety hours in the classroom.

What do we teach?

  1. Ser Humano, Tener Derechos 2. Ser Ciudadano, Hacer Paz 3. Ser Presente, Reconocer Historia 4. Ser Pacífico, Resolver Conflictos 5. Ser Empresario, Innovar a la Sociedad 6. Ser Digital, Romper Fronteras 7. Ser Sostenible, Vivir y Prosperar en Paz

What does each seminar teach?

(modular definition)


How to use the origins, theory, and contemporary practice of human rights to counter chronic violence. How to conceptualize citizenship and build social movements to fight corruption and discrimination. How to mobilize memory and the interpretation of the past in contemporary social movements. How to inventory, analyze, and resolve conflicts in different kinds of social, cultural, and political spaces. How to design and implement social innovations that realize new efficiencies and serve new populations. How to utilize art, technology, and new social imaginaries to break borders and build sustainable peace. How to create and maintain sustainable solutions, in harmony with the planet and its limited resources.

What does the series teach?

(networked definition)

A greater understanding of human nature helps to shape our expectations for peace and justice. Comparative examples of citizenship and social movements from around the world help to translate those expectations into successful models. Dealing with trauma and the gap between the history and memory of past conflicts helps to overcome cultural obstacles to social change and to build a more inclusive movement. Working through those obstacles in real time requires conflict inventory, analysis, and resolution, through mindful practices and solidarity. Designing solutions to the underlying social drivers of conflict can benefit enormously from the application of innovative management strategies and human-centered design. Cheap mobile technology, digital photography, and social networking can make the social inputs to conflict analysis and social innovation more democratic and accountable. A deep understanding of ecology and the limited natural resources on this planet can direct new social movements and innovations towards long-term sustainability.
What are the core principles? Lethal violence is neither natural nor inevitable, and human beings have an inherent capacity for empathy. Lasting social change is usually incremental and depends upon local appropriation. Reconciliation requires recovering the stories silenced by acts of violence, and countering the myths created by conflict and war. Mindful listening and learning are slower and more labor intensive than most military and political forms of conflict resolution, but ultimately more effective and humane. The same techniques used to maximize business efficiency and consumer appeal can alleviate human suffering and build more equitable societies. Digital technology and visual culture can liberate humanity if we learn to use them democratically and read them critically. Solutions to the most pressing problems of peace and justice will only be sustainable if they act in harmony with the planet and its limited resources.


The classroom work is just the tip of the iceberg. The participants in each of our seminar and certificate programs develop and carry out a collaborative or “hive-model” research project, where we leverage their experience, contacts, and local knowledge to explore and analyze their own societies. Our seminar participants have so far collected hundreds of responses to two ongoing public opinion surveys, one on corruption, and the other on discrimination and violence against women.

They have produced more and higher quality results and in a shorter period of time than we ever could have hoped for using contract survey data takers or student researchers from abroad. TBI provides training in ethical and effective research methods, and offer guidance in research design and content unaffected by local political pressures and biases. Once data collection is complete, TBI facilitates analysis of the data, comparison with results from our other seminar sites, and publication in the local venues and formats where it is most likely to have an impact on public policy. At the end of this process, the results belong to the collective to do with as they see fit – they do not simply become another academic study with which to burnish our reputation as a research institute.

The real impact of our seminars, of course, extends far beyond any formal academic program. Participants in our seminars have begun to implement some of the ideas and specific campaigns developed in classroom exercises in their work; they have created new coalitions and forums for exchanging ideas; and most of them remain in regular contact with TBI. As we build greater institutional and financial support, TBI plans to implement a formal mentoring structure for graduates of our programs, so that we can partner them directly with leaders in their fields, and then train the best of each cohort to teach the seminars and certificate programs to the next generation of students, such that the programs become self-sustaining.

Get involved!

If you’re interested in supporting, hosting, or participating in one of our seminar or certificate programs, please let us know. [email protected]

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