Students sharing about a conflict they experienced. (Photo: David J Smith)

Peacebuilding as a Means to Civic Engagement (USA)

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Peacebuilding as a Means to Civic Engagement (USA)

(Original article: David J. Smith, David J, Smith Consulting, Feb. 27, 2016)

The College of the Canyons (COC), located in Santa Clarita, CA, has recently launched a civic engagement initiative. Increasingly it is recognized the important role that colleges can play in providing opportunities for students to participate in democratic processes and community activities. COC has taken a meaningful step forward in establishing a center to take on this effort. At a conference last fall, I met the chancellor of COC, Dianne Van Hook, who invited me to visit to speak with students, faculty, and staff about the peacebuilding/civic engagement connection, and approaches that might be taken by COC to advance looking at conflict and peace issues. The head of the initiative, Patty Robinson, was the host for my visit.

My objective was to provide the college with an understanding of how peacebuilding related education and activities could be a strategy for advancing civic engagement. Over two days, I met with over 150 students and educators at the college to explore the peace/civic engagement connection.

During the first day, I met with three classes where I explored with students interpretations of peace, emphasizing the ways in which peace can be used as a “means” to responding to conflict. I pointed out to students that conflict in and of itself is neither good nor bad, but is a catalyst for change. As interveners, using appropriate approaches, we can work to make conflict a constructive and enriching experience.

I also met with the COC Model United Nations class. Students were preparing for a conference at the University of California/Berkeley. Members of the class are representing a number of countries, and the meeting I observed included both a formal procedural session with motions offered and voted on, as well as caucusing where delegates met one on one to discuss issues. One item that was given special attention was a resolution to prevent the use of genocide. This group was well prepared for the upcoming conference. They were articulate, focused, and thorough in their interactions. The chair of the meeting in particular kept the delegates on task.

On the second day, I conducted a 5-hour workshop on “Empowering Community College Students for the 21st Century: The Role of Peacebuilding in Advancing Civic Engagement.” Attendees were a mix of faculty, staff, and students. In this session, I shared with them basic notions of peacebuilding, and interpretations of peace and conflict. We engaged in several activities including looking at different responses to conflict using peace “means” and considering ways to infuse peacebuilding principles into courses and activities. The highlight was having the students role play scenarios that I have used before that focus on community college students acting as interveners in conflict situations. Having students “act out” these scenarios gives them an opportunity to engage in active learning. We also allowed time for reflection on the experience with observations by those watching the activity. My hope was that students would develop an appreciation of their roles and obligations in making positive change and advancing social justice outcomes.

The efforts of the college are commended, and reflect a desire to better position community college graduates to be successful both professionally and personally upon completing their education. Research is showing that developing civic-based skills and awareness will continue to be important in the future as our society becomes more diverse and demands civic participation to respond to environmental, social, and political challenges.

For more information on the efforts at the College of the Canyons, contact Dr. Patty Robinson at [email protected] 

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