Challenges Facing Africans Today: CSB/SJU’s 25th Annual Peace Studies Conference

/ 30 August 2012

As you probably know the major I gravitated into at CSB/SJU is Peace Studies. The department holds an annual Peace Studies conference in September of every academic year. This year’s conference is centered on Africa and will be held at the Gorecki Dining and Conference Center (room 204A&B) on the College of Saint Benedict campus (letter M on the campus map) on Monday September 17th. This conference is free and open to the public. The schedule of sessions is as follows:

  • 1:00 "An African Spring in the Making? Challenging the State in Sub-Saharan Africa." Dr. Ernest Harsch, Research Scholar, Institute of African Studies, Columbia University.
  • 2:40-3:50 African Students' Forum on "Challenges Facing Africans Today." Moderator: Hiwote Bekele, CSB/SJU United African Students' Association
  • 4:20-5:30 Panel: "Challenges Facing the St. Cloud Somali Community." Moderator: Hudda Ibrahim, 2012 Recipient, Mische Peace Studies Scholarship
  • 7:00 "Women, Peacebuilding and Sustainable Development in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Kenyan Case Study." Dr. Patricia Mische, CSB Alum, retired Lloyd Professor of Peace Studies and World Law, Antioch College; Co-Founder, Global Education Associates.

For those that are wondering, I only decided to write this post after asking the chair of the department if it would be alright, and he (Ron Pagnucco) is who you can email if you want more information. As this is the 25th conference Ron suggested that I inquire with another member of the Peace Studies faculty (who happens to be my faculty advisor, and was my FYS instructor, Jeff Anderson) about the history of the annual Peace Studies conference. The history (as taken from an email I was sent by Jeff earlier today with a detailed history written by Fr. Rene McGraw that I’ve edited in minor ways for this blog post) of the department as a whole, and when the conference began, is after the break.

In the realm of academic and social programs on the CSB/SJU campuses, what would you consider is the sheer opposite of the Peace Studies department, at least in principle? The ROTC program would be my answer. It was in 1980 that in the process of discussing the future of ROTC a few groups of students argued that CSB/SJU needed a Peace Studies program to balance things out. At the time Fr. Rene wasn’t convinced, but by his sabbatical in the 1983-1884 academic year he was sure that eliminating the ROTC program was not an option given the support it had from the president and alumni.

Fr. Rene spent his sabbatical in Boston working with Gene Sharp (as many of my Peace Studies classmates know, one of the foremost experts in nonviolent resistance to social conflicts) to think about a Peace Studies program. Upon his return to Saint John’s a committee was formed to explore the possibility of a peace studies program. This committee worked on several things since they knew hiring new faculty members would not be immediately possible:

  1. Through summer workshops funded by the faculty development program, they were able to get existing professors who were interested in the issues of conflict and its resolution to come together.
  2. Then they began urging these professors to include issues of conflict and its peaceful resolution in their classes.
  3. They then begin to develop the program for a peace studies major, after many discussions about whether they should start with a peace studies minor or major, or whether they should use what was called at that time the infusion method. The infusion method tried to get faculty from across the curriculum to infuse their courses with a peace and conflict dimension. A consultant strongly urged them not to use that method, because he said it became very tenuous, since interested faculty were pulled in other directions. So they ultimately decided to go with the major/minor approach.
  4. Then through consultation with other colleges, they were advised to go straight for the major, but only if that failed, should they look for a minor instead. The reasoning there was that it is much more difficult to go from a minor to a major than the reverse.

Beginning in 1986 they were prepared to present a proposal for a few courses. The proposal would require one new professor be hired. At its start the program consisted of a few core courses (Intro to Peace studies, a course called technologies of violence and nonviolence, another course on the theologies of violence and nonviolence or a course on the philosophies of violence and nonviolence, a capstone course and an internship) along with five or six courses worked out with the student’s faculty advisor. These courses would either be in the humanities, social sciences, or natural sciences. At a basic level, this is how the program looks today, as is somewhat visible in my own focus statement.

After lengthy faculty meetings Saint John’s approved the program in 1986, and they started functioning as a department in 1987. Initially St. Ben’s rejected the major in the same year in the curriculum committee (at that time there still was some separation between the two schools on curriculum). Fr. Rene believes it was 1993 when St. Ben’s approved the major, under Jeff’s leadership.

Fr. Rene believes that it was in 1992 or 1993 that Saint John’s University hired Dr. Jeff Anderson. He was department chair after he received tenure. Then in the fall of 1999 Ron Pagnucco was hired as Dr. Anderson had overseen an increase in enrollment. Dr. Pagnucco, because of his interest in social action, has engineered a personal interest in Africa and is currently the department chair. A bit later with the larger number of majors they were able to make a case for the hiring of Dr. Kelly Kraemer in 2001 (the professor who has taught most of the Peace Studies courses I’ve taken thus far).

It was when they first started teaching Peace Studies classes that the first full-time faculty member was hired for the department, Dr. Thomas Boudreau (he taught here for the 1989-1990, 1990-1991, and 1991-1992 academic years).

It was the first year, as well, or maybe the year before, that the Peace Studies Conference began. The main speaker at the first conference talked mainly abut other peace studies programs and the directions that they had gone. To get a feel for the topics covered in these conferences you can look at the past conferences page on the website. The early conferences had a similar range of topics covered as the more recent ones have had. Early on in the conferences Dr. Bob Breitenbucher and Lorraine Breitenbucher committed funds for the peace studies conference which is still the basic money for the conference today.

So, that is a (somewhat detailed) history of the Peace Studies program at CSB/SJU. It gives you some idea of where the conference (and by extension major) that is celebrating its 25th year came from. As the professors named above read this history I’ll update it with more specifics and their suggestions.