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Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies: New Major Links Classes, Service Learning


The Steans Center has partnered with PAX to play a pivotal role in linking students and classes to community organizations at the forefront of addressing these issues in Chicago and globally. The program provides students with the skills to reflect on the origins and causes of violence, as well as exposing them to non-violent approaches to social change. One defining feature of the program, says PAX Program Director Dr. Mary Jeanne Larrabee, is how it explores violence and non-violence on the local,

international, and global levels. “The program asks questions like: How can conflicts be resolved? What are the different forms of justice?” says Larrabee. “And while students study these questions in the classroom, in many cases they also have the opportunity to learn in the field through service-learning opportunities.” Professor Thomas O’Brien, former director of the PAX program and an associate professor of religious studies at DePaul, adds that service learning is an integral part of PAX classes. “Some kind of practical connection is essential to the learning process,” he says. “Understanding is about making contact with people who are doing something on the ground.” Over the years the PAX minor program steadily attracted interest to the point where it made sense to offer a major degree program. “We are encouraging double majors,” Larrabee says. “This program has a way of reaching a lot of different disciplines. Our idea is, ‘Let’s think about how these might work together – and figure out what skills you want to develop.” Students who take PAX classes find that they are linked to a wide variety of disciplines at DePaul across all colleges and schools. Larrabee adds that classes in the major can include a wide range of approaches - including research, novels, film, international studies, website and database development, economics, public relations and advertising and more. The program offers a range of courses that focus on international conflicts, human rights, conflict resolution, peace building, activism, and social justice. ​​​


‘Toolbox’ for Engaging Conflicts 

​​​​Professor Ken Butigan, who has taught nine courses in the program, says he has witnessed growing interest in PAX over the years. Butigan’s expertise in the subject goes back three decades. Since the ear​ly 1980s he’s been involved in numerous nonviolent social movements such as the anti-nuclear movement, homeless rights and Central American peace movements. “There has been a revolution in academia in the past twenty years, where colleges and universities have increasingly developed peace, justice and conflict studies programs,” says Butigan. “I am seeing many programs that seek to provide students with a vision and toolbox for engaging creatively the conflicts we face every day.” He adds that studying these subjects gives students an opportunity to explore critical issues in the world – and in their own lives. “I ask students to keep a critical journal,” Butigan says. “I am often struck by the way they are applying what they learn to their own personal relationships, in their families, or with fellow students or co-workers.” 

   In the Community 

Students in Butigan’s class this spring worked with eight organizations in the city, including the Brother David Darst Center for Justice & Spiritual Education and Voices for Creative Nonviolence. “I think a lot of young people are craving opportunities to explore the topics of peace and justice,” says Mindy Rueden, Executive Director of the Darst Center, a Chicago-based organization. “I very much appreciate the opportunity to work with the Steans Center and Peace Studies program to get more students in here.” DePaul students created brochures, wrote a press release for a local newspaper, worked on the organization’s website, and helped organize an awarenessraising event for the Center. Jeff Leys, Executive Director of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, says he has welcomed DePaul students from at least seven PAX classes to the organization including students from Butigan’s classes. During spring 2010, four students performed a variety of jobs. Leys says that staff will sit down with students after they’ve had a chance to acclimate themselves “and begin to figure out project niches they might be able to work on. For example, this quarter one of the interns did research on the status of health care in Afghanistan – then created a flier and fact sheet. Others have researched the impact of drones used by the U.S. military in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” Eventually, the results of DePaul students’ work inform campaigns that engage the public in dialogue about war and its impact on local populations. Rueden and Leys echo each other’s thoughts about the benefits of having students at their programs – for the organization as well as the students. Both emphasize the importance of listening to students and their perspectives about the organization’s work and challenges. “One of the things we really value is everyone having an equal voice around the table,” Rueden says. “We embrace that and include it in how we develop our marketing tools.” “Community-based organizations need to be ready to make the commitment to sit down with students when they arrive at their location,” adds Leys. “You have to build opportunities for conversations into the experience.”​

S​tudents: Major Where “Theoretical Meets Practical” 

Recent DePaul graduate Julie Froslan notes, “having a Peace Studies program at a university is really important,” say Froslan, who majored in English and minored in Women’s and Gender Studies at DePaul. “It helps to depart from the script that says the only way to solve conflict is with a tank. Taking these classes may not change the way you view conflict, but it will help you consider other options.” “For me, the Peace Studies major is where theoretical meets practical,” adds Nic Cable, a PAX major. “It’s about being conscious and engaged citizens.” In an activism class he took during DePaul’s winter quarter, Cable and nine other students created an event on immigrant justice at DePaul for fellow students. The group presented a blend of community and student activists speeches and musical testimony on the immigration issue. More than 250 students and community members stopped by during the three-hour event, which was titled “Love Without Borders: A Celebration of Immigration.” Cable helped manage the event, which he says “raised awareness of why DePaul students have a stake in this issue.” For Emily Anderson, being engaged in a wide range of activities and causes has been an essential part of her experience at DePaul. Anderson says she first became “addicted” to the study of peace and social revolution while taking a U.S. history class in high school. Anderson, who graduated in June 2010, says she “had so many phenomenal experiences in service learning through this major.” Her experiences have included attending a world social forum in Brazil, planning a Vincentian youth convocation, and – for her senior capstone project - designing her own nonprofit organization. For this project, she planned a community-based school that promotes service learning. In addition, Anderson and another DePaul student had the opportunity to regularly visit former gang members at Kolbe House, the Catholic jail ministry of the Archdiocese of Chicago. “We have a nonjudgmental, open-minded dialogue with them about how they got there and what their experiences have been,” she says. “They have been grateful to talk with us.” Anderson has also conducted a literature review on gangs in Chicago, prison ministries and juvenile incarceration in the United States. She plans to work with incarcerated youth and gangs in Los Angeles. Anderson says she has learned through her classroom experience at DePaul that she is far from alone in her work. “One of the greatest things I am finding is that this kind of work is more common and important than we hear about. I’ve gotten a real sense that this kind of activism and service has been going on for years. There’s a real community and people who have been doing this work for generations.” Like all college students, PAX majors face the inevitable question about how the subject will apply to their life after graduation. Larrabee, O’Brien and others emphasize the practical nature of the Peace Studies major. “There are many careers connected to or enhanced by this field,” O’Brien says. “For example, think about positions at the United Nations or with nongovernmental organizations.” Careers may fall into the areas of foreign policy, human rights, social and economic justice, environmental protection, law, journalism, government and other areas. Students may also consider voluntary options with programs and organizations such as the Peace Corps, Amnesty International, Oxfam and many others. Meanwhile, Ken Butigan says there is a message he likes to share with students in his classes. “I tell them that we have more power than we think,” he says. “And here are tools you can use to make change with that power.” Or, as Emily Anderson put it, “This degree shows you how you can change whatever you want. You are empowered.”​