Fostering peace on campus, in communities

Photo: UN/Manuel Elias

Today is the International Day of Peace. Established by a United Nations resolution in 1981, it is promoted as a day focusing on peace and the cessation of violence. Many colleges and universities today will hold events and activities bringing attention to peaceful approaches to engagement, and some even designate the entire week as Peace Week.

We don’t need to be reminded that we live in a violent world. Americans have been at war in Afghanistan since 2001, and almost as long in Iraq. But violent conflict exists in many parts of the world today, including in South Sudan, where genocide is underway, in Myanmar, where Rohingyas are being forcibly removed, in Syria, where there is still a war with ISIS, and in Yemen, which is now in its third year of a civil war, where famine and cholera are having devastating effects on the population.

But violence also exists in local and community contexts: consider the continued high rates of domestic violence, bullying, and, of late, race and ethnic conflict in the U.S., brought about in part by our struggle to deal with the past.

Community college students are no less immune from the effects of violence than students in four-year institutions. Many students come from minority communities, as well as immigrant and refugee groups. And many have witnessed violence close up: in their own communities or in the countries they have fled.

In looking at our populations we see the full range of ethnic and cultural diversity that not only represents our society, but also reminds us of the important potential of America that we must constantly promote.

Peace as building blocks

Peace is often presented as a political movement and cultural phenomenon, with predictable symbols and alternative lifestyles. In these ways, peace is often something that is separate from mainstream society and dismissed as being irrelevant to the day-to-day activities of Americans, our institutions, and ways of life.

Rather, peace is the building block and essential ingredient by which aspirations are met, dreams our fulfilled, and people attain meaningful and secure lives and livelihoods. And community colleges do much to bring that about. The educational environment itself, where students are given important attention, provided with direction, and are shown compassion and interest are ways in which peace is made real.

A world that is peaceful where all can thrive, often starts in the relationships and attentiveness found in the learning environment. Community colleges offer hope and pathways for students who might be otherwise marginalized. Community college professionals can model and inspire constructive avenues to success and personal and professional satisfaction that benefit individuals, families and communities.

On this International Day of Peace, community colleges should take stock of the important work they do to foster a world that is peaceful and prosperous. As we become even more diverse as a country, community colleges will be critical to making America a land of equal opportunity and peace.

About the Author

David J. Smith
David J. Smith is president of the Forage Center for Peacebuilding and Humanitarian Education and a former faculty member at Harford Community College in Maryland. The Forage Center hosts the National Community College Peacebuilding Seminar every fall.