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Colleges as teachers of peace and conflict resolution

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from an article in the August/September edition of the Community College Journal, the bimonthly magazine of the American Association Community Colleges (AACC). All employees of AACC member colleges can access the complete article and the entire issue here.
Americans increasingly are looking to community colleges to solve some of the most pressing problems facing this country—not necessarily a surprising revelation.
Community colleges have long been in the business of making communities stronger and more vibrant, minimizing economic and social inequities, and instilling hope in those who need it most.
As a result, individuals, no matter their age, gender, race, or ability, can avail themselves of the benefits of higher education. Community colleges have done much to promote prosperity and security, competitiveness and equity, and cultural and social enrichment. So, it should come as no surprise that community colleges are ideally positioned to promote peace and security in an increasingly violent, unstable global society.
Community colleges that pursue peace and conflict initiatives generally follow one of four strategies, often in combination with each other.
First, there is an increase in the development of traditional social science- and humanities-based peace and conflict studies courses and programs frequently designed for transfer. The U.S. Institute of Peace has been gathering such data to measure the effectiveness of its work with community colleges.
The most recent assessment indicates that as of the 2009–10 academic year, 15 community colleges offer or plan to offer a degree/minor/certificate/concentration with a peace and conflict focus; nearly 20 institutions are seriously considering starting such programs. These institutions range from large urban colleges, such as Ohio’s Cuyahoga Community College, to small rural colleges, such as Allegany College of Maryland.
Peace and conflict studies programs are available throughout the nation. Some programs, such as the one at Greenfield Community College (GCC) in Massachusetts, focus on peace studies; others, such as the one at Howard Community College in Maryland, focus largely on conflict resolution. Both types of programs tend to be interdisciplinary, reflective of the approaches community colleges often take to provide students with experiences relevant for today’s world.
As students increasingly turn to community colleges, many are looking for programs that focus on the complexities and realities of the present day. As such, colleges are starting to realize that a peace and conflict studies program, particularly one with a strong global focus, can help attract and keep motivated students.
With a commitment to vocational education, community college faculty are considering ways to engage vocational students in conversations and lessons about conflict and violence. This approach usually involves lessons about human rights and international law in homeland security or law enforcement programs. Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland, for example, offers a homeland security program that includes coursework on human rights and international law. A nursing program, for instance, might examine how global pandemics can hasten violent conflict and war.
This strategy benefits students who might consider nontraditional career starting points, whether through independent international work or by joining the Peace Corps, which has opportunities for community college students. In addition, the natural and physical sciences have important roles to play in teaching students about peace, particularly when considering the interplay between environmental degradation and conflict. Michigan’s Delta College and GCC offer peace studies programs that include environmental coursework.
Smith is national educational outreach officer for the U.S. Institute of Peace. He previously taught at Harford Community College in Maryland.