(Reposted from: Georgia Tech. November 20, 2020)
By Michael Pearson
Anna Westerstahl Stenport wants you to change how you think about peace.
Georgia Tech and the Atlanta Global Studies Center (AGSC), which Stenport co-chairs, are helping lead an initiative to create a metropolitan peace education initiative. The goal: create a peace studies ecosystem in Atlanta that spans schools and disciplines such as engineering, health sciences, and humanities, and social sciences.
That’s because peace isn’t just about the absence of violence and understanding what causes that violence. It’s also about finding ways to promote health, access to food, water, and education, a clean environment, justice, and more.
“What could be more important than peace?” said Stenport, who also is chair of the School of Modern Languages in the Georgia Tech Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts. “And the notion of mobilizing the higher education sector in peacemaking, peacebuilding, and peace education is such an incredible opportunity.”
The effort is a project of the Atlanta Peace Initiative (API), a non-profit group of civic and business leaders seeking to bring the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates to Atlanta every three years and launch the Americas office of the Secretariat of the World Summit in Atlanta.
This week, the group unveiled the results of an intensive inventory of “peace assets” in metro Atlanta’s higher education system. These are essentially public and private centers and institutes, college degree programs, and other initiatives that play a role in promoting peace.
Georgia Tech recently rolled out a strategic plan that emphasizes advancing “the human condition” through “progress and service for all” and has increasingly emphasized attention to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals — including peace and strong institutions (Goal 16). According to the API analysis, Georgia Tech turns out to be exceptionally well suited to play a strong role in the peace education effort.
Of the 1,200 such assets spread across metro Atlanta, Georgia Tech had among the most peace-centric centers and initiatives of any educational institution in the region, with 67, consultant Kathleen Kurre of Fusion Consulting told the API on a video call last week.
They include the Center for Ethics and Technology in the Ivan Allen College, the Constellations Center for Equity in Computing, the Institute for People and Technology, the Center for Health and Humanitarian Systems, Serve-Learn-Sustain, and the Center for International Strategy, Technology, and Policy.
“Georgia Tech is committed to promoting the UN Sustainable Development Goals and promoting better lives for all, and that includes striving for a more peaceful world,” Stenport said,
“Closer to home, in the Ivan Allen College, this is another example of where liberal arts can lead the way, amplify our impact across the Institute, and make a positive impact in the region. It’s an innovative approach, bringing so many of the region’s colleges and universities together in partnership with the community and industry,” Stenport said.
Building on Atlanta’s Rich Civil Rights and Nobel Peace Prize Legacy
The idea for a peace education initiative emerged from the API’s discussions with Nobel officials, said Sebnem Ozkan, an academic professional in the School of Modern Languages and the associate director of the AGSC.
Building on Atlanta’s rich history as a civil rights nexus and the home to two Nobel peace laureates — Martin Luther King Jr. and President Jimmy Carter — the Nobel group suggested building an educational ecosystem in peace studies as part of the work.
“API reached out to us and asked if we could take the lead in coordinating this regional education initiative,” Ozkan said. “It was a tremendous opportunity to expand our work in AGSC, and we jumped at the chance.”
The proposed peace education initiative currently includes ten metro Atlanta colleges and universities. Ozkan said what precise form such a program might take has yet to emerge. But she imagined opportunities for interdisciplinary and cross-institutional teamwork, such as health sciences faculty and students at Emory University collaborating with their counterparts in Georgia Tech engineering or computer science.
Such projects would defy the traditional definition of peace studies as something that lives in a specific department such as political science or law, for example, Ozkan said.
“We want to expand peace studies from its traditional perspective as a political science-oriented discipline that has tended to address peace as conflict resolution at a global level, and also bring it down to neighborhood level and the regional level, and make it truly interdisciplinary,” Ozkan said.
Sam Konigsberg, a board member of the Atlanta Peace Initiative, said the project to give peace a home in Atlanta comes at the right time for the country and the world.
“We find ourselves at this unique intersection in 2020 where we’ve had a quite challenging year with the global pandemic and all of the social issues that have been brought to the forefront,” Konigsberg said. “We have an opportunity as a city and region to address that.”
21st Century Global Atlanta VIP
One exciting initiative already underway is the 21st Century Global Atlanta Vertically Integrated Project. Now in its second year, led by Ozkan and Jenny Strakovsky, Associate Director of Graduate Studies and Career Education, the VIP is working this year on the idea of Atlanta as a city of peace.
The VIPs five students have been interviewing Atlanta peacemakers and developing podcasts and a magazine that will be released soon.
“The VIP allows us to bring students in on the storytelling. Even as they learn the skills of media production and web design, they get the opportunity to be a voice in an essential global conversation.” Strakovsky said. “The students have helped us understand why this matters for Atlanta. API is an opportunity to put Atlanta on the map when it comes to supporting world peace. The students have helped us discover some of the lesser-known peace work happening around the city, and to connect Atlanta to the global conversation.”
Ozkan said the group came in with a fairly standard definition of peace, but she sees their views beginning to shift. The diversity of the group is also helping break down preconceptions, Ozkan said.
“We have students from different backgrounds: Ivan Allen College, computer science, public policy. So these conversations have been educational and eye-opening for many of them. I think they’re learning to look at issues from different perspectives and appreciate each others’ views.”
While there’s no specific timeline yet for a regional peace education curriculum, API hopes to have the Americas Office of the Secretariat of the World Summit in Atlanta in conjunction with the first Atlanta Nobel laureates conference in October 2022.
The group is also working with Atlanta consulates to create a “peace district” that would provide a physical space for countries to showcase peace initiatives.
“If we’re able to bring these assets together, we can truly make Atlanta a city of peace,” Konigsberg said. “We can really make something special in our lifetimes and leave an incredible mark for our generations and generations to come.”
For more information about the Peace Education Initiative, visit the AGSC website at https://atlantaglobalstudies.gatech.edu/Peace.