In this occasional series, we ask Arts & Sciences instructors to discuss how they engage students in the great questions of our time.
Q. How would you describe this course?
A. This course asks students to engage with debates about peace, conflict, intervention, and conflict resolution to allow the class to develop a broad understanding of peacebuilding processes. We look at how international organizations, states, non-governmental organizations, and individuals work towards peace. Then we examine the relationship between the ideas of peace that inform those interventions and the ability of conflicts to be transformed —or not.
Since a large part of the course has us think about war, violence, and various forms of dehumanization, the end of the semester focuses very much on what works in peacebuilding. Here we look at what students have learned about specific ideas, strategies, or techniques that they consider effective in countering various forms of violence.
I do that for two reasons. Firstly, I don’t want the course to be too depressing. Secondly, because too often, there is this commonly held view that war is inevitable and people cannot overcome that violence when the world over people engage in peacebuilding all the time. I find it necessary to highlight these efforts, especially when we can’t notice them.
Q. What makes this course appealing to students?
A. It addresses issues of peace, justice, inequality, and violence. These are topics that I found Georgia State students have a particular interest in. More than that, it offers them an environment in which they are encouraged to think outside the box, uncover and then challenge common-sense views, and creatively imagine ways to address questions of social change.
Q. Why is this course important?
A. It focuses on peace when too often, we only hear about war and violence. It provides a safe environment where students can discuss questions of violence and explore approaches to peace. It creates a sense of community that allows students to let their creativity push their intellectual insights into the direction of affecting positive change. It requires hard work — there are a lot of readings and a lot of summaries — but peace is hard. Then, at the end of the semester, it allows them to let their creativity run wild.
Q. How can students take this course into the workforce?
A. We spend a lot of time reading complex academic arguments, and as part of their regular assignments, students have to compile short summaries of those texts. This essential skill easily translates into any career. Computing information into more easily manageable chunks will be important regardless of whether they go to graduate or law school or go straight into the workforce.
Students are encouraged to question how they learn about the world and recognize the power in the narrative as it shapes our abilities to see what is possible.
One important soft skill students take away from this class is always asking whose service particular projects are carried out. Students learn to ask questions, make connections between the ideas we talk about in class and what happens in their lives, questions of everyday de- and re-humanization, social injustices in our neighborhoods and the connections to the stories we tell about them, community efforts to address those inequities and the disconnect between local and national (and of course international) media stories in shaping our understanding of those stories.
Students also have to be able to communicate their ideas orally. They will often spend class periods discussing specific readings/concepts in smaller groups. That means they will have to contend with multiple perspectives, engage in teamwork, and articulate their own positions.
Q. What’s the most interesting or unusual assignment that you give students in this class?
A. We end the semester by creating a peace museum where students have to present a museum exhibit that they make that in some way represents or illustrates a particular idea about peacebuilding that they found to be working. Throughout the semester, the students research a topic, generally a specific kind of conflict, and assess what types of interventions took place and whether they were effective. Out of this research, their unique understanding of what works gets turned into an exhibit.
– Interview by Emma Barrett (B.A., English, ’25). Photo by Melanie Fan.