New School of Peace and Conflict Studies
Highlights University's Legacy of Global Understanding Research
Since the shootings of May 4, 1970, when the Ohio National Guard killed four and wounded nine Kent State students during a protest against the U.S. war in Vietnam and Cambodia, Kent State University has been a global leader in facilitating positive institutional responses to violent conflict. In August, Kent State University's Center for Applied Conflict Management (CACM) became the School of Peace and Conflict Studies within the College of Arts and Sciences. The School’s predecessor organization was founded in 1971 as Kent State University's original "living memorial" to the students killed on May 4, 1970.
The mission of the new School of Peace and Conflict Studies is to promote interdisciplinary research, teaching, practice, and community outreach on conflict analysis and resolution, peacebuilding, and prevention of violence. It promotes constructive approaches to managing and transforming conflicts in order to build a more just and peaceful world. The School facilitates collaborative efforts, from the local to the global, to critically examine and formulate effective responses to destructive conflicts and violence.
The School offers a popular undergraduate degree and, with the Department of Political Science, a track concentrated in “Conflict Analysis and Management" in the Political Science PhD program.
The School is also involved in many important research projects clustered around creating “constructive changes for pressing problems.” For example, how to achieve peace and security in conflict zones is a pressing problem addressed by the School’s research faculty in a variety of ways. Assistant Professor Sara Koopman recently conducted research on how mediation by women’s groups across the conflict cycle supports peace processes, in a project that focused on the cases of Colombia and Burundi. Koopman’s field research with women peacemakers in Colombia in the summer of 2017 was followed by a workshop that brought women mediators from Colombia, Burundi, and Finland together in Finland in the fall of 2017 at the Tampere Peace Research Institute. From that work Dr. Koopman published a policy brief issued by the Finnish Prime Minister’s office and the Tampere Peace Institute entitled “The Impact of Grassroots Women’s Participatory Mediation and Dialogue on the Implementation of Peace Agreements.” The paper drew on her Columbia research, as well as a final report with her co-researchers that puts the experience of the three countries into dialogue. Dr. Koopman is now working on a new project with another Finnish funding agency that will bring together Colombian women’s groups involved in their peace process with Syrian women who are trying to get a place at the peace table at a workshop in Helsinki in the fall of 2018.
Another way to bring constructive changes to the pressing problem of creating peace and security in the midst of violent conflict is through “zones of peace.” Here local communities experiencing violent conflict proclaim their lands and neighborhoods as completely de-militarized, disallowing entry or passage by any armed actors and thereby reclaim control over their community’s security and livelihoods. Prominent examples include zones of peace in Guatemala, Colombia, South Africa, Philippines, Northern Ireland, Nepal, and others. A world-wide authority on these grassroots zones of peace, Dr. Landon Hancock, Associate Professor in the School of Peace and Conflict Studies, is nearing completion of his third edited book on the subject, due out in 2018. Hancock’s edited volume, "Narratives of Identity in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change," appeared in September 2016 as Volume 40 of the Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change series, published by Emerald Group Publishing, Bingley, UK, and housed at Kent State in the school. Hancock also published an article, “Agency & Peacebuilding: The Promise of Local Zones of Peace” in the influential journal Peacebuilding in October 2016. Notably, the article was selected by the Peace Science Digest for synopsis and inclusion into their October, 2017 issue, giving this research even broader distribution and influence.
Yet a third way to create peace and security in conflict zones that is growing in popularity and being applied in dozens of conflict zones globally is through nonviolent protective accompaniment, also known as unarmed civilian peacekeeping. This is a long-standing area of research for Koopman and School of Peace and Conflict Studies Interim Director, Professor Patrick Coy. The tactic includes local human rights activists and citizens under threat utilizing the services of unnamed civilian peacekeepers to “walk alongside” them, heightening their visibility through extensive international networking, deterring violence, and raising the risks for potential attackers to weigh. Coy traveled to the Philippines in Dec., 2017 for a consultation and workshop with Nonviolent Peaceforce, designed to distill and develop good practices in unarmed civilian peacekeeping in the South Asian context, including the Philippines.
In August of 2017, Coy received a “Career Award” from the American Sociological Association’s Peace, War and Social Conflict Section, the “Robin Williams Distinguished Contributions to Scholarship, Teaching, and Service Award at the annual conference” from the Peace, War and Social Conflict Section at the American Sociological Association’s Conference This award honors a scholar who has had an outstanding career in the study of peace, war, genocide, military institutions, or social conflict, has made important contributions to teaching the sociology of peace, war, and social conflict, and/ or has given outstanding service to the ASA Section on Peace, War, and Social Conflict.
Coy published two pieces on nonviolent action in the last academic year: a book chapter, “Communication, Constructiveness, and Asymmetry in Nonviolent Action Theory and Practice,” in Perspectives in Waging Conflicts Constructively: Cases, Concepts and Practice, Bruce Dayton and Louis Kriesberg, editors, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2017; and the co-authored article, “Skills, Training and Activism” in the journal Reflective Practice in June of 2017.
Associate Professor of Political Science Julie Mazzei’s edited volume, “Non-state Violent Actors and Social Movement Organizations” appeared in 2017 as Volume 41 of the Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change book series. Coy is currently editing Volume 42, set to appear in the fall of 2018.
Prisons are often places rife with conflict and in need of various kinds of security. Assistant Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies Johanna Solomon is researching the practices of Alternatives to Violence Program (AVP) in prisons wherein prisoners are trained in and equipped with conflict management skills in communication, negotiation, mediation, violence reduction, etc. Notably, AVP relies on a train-the-trainer model where inmates train their colleagues.
Conflicts in local neighborhoods have also attracted the attention of School researchers. For example, Anuj Gurung, an instructor with the School and Ph.D. candidate in Political Science, worked as a Research Consultant in the fall of 2016, carrying out a muchneeded study of neighborhood economics and social networking for the International Institute of Akron. Funded by the Knight Foundation to study economic development in the immigrant-rich North Hill region of Akron, Anuj helped design a two-stage research project consisting of surveys and a focus group in the Akron neighborhood. Gurung designed the 20 question survey on recent revenue trends, impacts of immigrant clientele, and the business owner satisfaction with location. Distributing these surveys inperson provided Anuj with important data and helped him network with pertinent individuals for his dissertation on Bhutanese resettlement in North Hill. This was following by a focus group between U.S.-born and immigrant business owners that Gurung also designed and conducted. Beyond providing other information and data, the focus group also had important spin-off benefits as it created the initial contacts between the U.S.-born and immigrant owners. This led to further cooperative meetings between the two groups and represents a stellar example of applied research with important results on the ground.
The School of Peace and Conflict Studies has already established an inter-disciplinary Identity Working Group with faculty from the School and Geography. These faculty members will apply their collective knowledge and skills learned globally about identity dynamics to research in our local community and country. Targeting racial divisions and divisiveness, their first project examines narratives of nationalism within Blue Lives Matter supporters in Portage County, a district that swung from supporting Obama in prior presidential elections to Trump in 2016. Fieldwork is set to begin in the winter with a local focus group of Blue Lives Matter supporters, which will provide the foundation for research grant applications for the larger study.