Kent State and the University of Rwanda Build on Past Tragedies to Promote Global Peace
Past tragedies link Kent State University and the University of Rwanda in a distinct way.
For Kent State, the May 4, 1970, shootings have become a permanent part of the university’s history and American history. In Rwanda, the country’s 1994 genocide against the Tutsi resulted in the slaughter of nearly one million people. Although on different scales, both violent events have shaped the cultures of each university and given each a unique perspective on the effects of violence on a community.
Now, both universities are drawing on their past to forge a path toward global peace.
The universities are sponsoring Peace Education in an Era of Crisis, an academic conference next summer on peace education and interactive skills workshop for educators and practitioners.
The idea for the conference was the result of Kent State’s new collaboration with the University of Rwanda (UR). In May, Kent State’s Board of Trustees approved the university forming a non-profit corporation to be housed at the UR in Kigali, to serve as Kent State’s base of operations for recruitment throughout all of Africa.
Kent State’s relationship with UR has been blossoming in myriad ways.
R. Neil Cooper, Ph.D., director of the School of Peace and Conflict Studies, said the peace conference was born out of work his school was conducting with UR’s Centre for Conflict Management, to create a dual master’s degree in Peace and Conflict Studies at the two universities.
Cooper has been working with Aggee Shyaka Mugabee, director of UR’s center, who spent the summer at Kent State as a visiting scholar. Along with Amanda Johnson, Ph.D., director of Gerald H. Read Center for International and Intercultural Education within Kent State’s College of Education, Health and Human Services, they developed the idea for the universities to host the international conference on peace education, which is scheduled to take place in Kigali from July 11 to 14.
The conference is being sponsored by UR’s center, Kent State’s School of Peace and Conflict Studies and the Read Center. The Aegis Trust, an international organization based in Rwanda that works to prevent genocide and mass atrocities worldwide, also has agreed to co-sponsor the conference.
Kent State’s School of Peace and Conflict Studies, formerly known as the Center for Peaceful Change, was created as the Center for Peaceful Change in 1971 in response to the May 4 shootings that resulted in the deaths of four students and the wounding of nine others by the Ohio National Guard during anti-war protests. UR’s Centre for Conflict Management was created in the aftermath of the genocide.
Through its determination to recover from its genocide, Rwanda has embedded peace education throughout its national curriculum, which made Rwanda the perfect location for the conference, Cooper said.
“It’s an interesting model and an example of a country that has really tried to mainstream and adopt peace education,” he said.
Johnson said one of her roles is to encourage engagement between international and domestic students within the college so that Kent State is graduating educators with a broad worldview. Johnson said she was eager to collaborate on the conference to engage the Read Center in a broader scope of issues including peace studies, colonialism and race relations.
Johnson is searching for funding and hopes to be able to take 10 or 12 teachers from northeast Ohio to the conference. “We need the practice of peace education within our school systems,” she said.
Cooper said now more than ever the world needs education in peace and conflict management, making the conference even more important and relevant. Not only in the United States, where political discourse has escalated resulting in numerous acts of violence, but worldwide where the number of ongoing conflicts has reached elevated levels not seen since before the 1980s.
“Many of the metrics on peace and conflict are currently going in the wrong direction,” he said, “A greater awareness is needed to address questions of peace and conflict.”
Cooper offered the following eye-opening statistics:
Six out of seven people surveyed worldwide report feeling moderately or very insecure, and in those countries categorized as low or medium human development by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) 64% report feeling very insecure.
The Global Peace Index (GPI) produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) reports that the world is less peaceful than at any time since 2008 when the GPI was first published; their measure of violent demonstrations around the world has worsened by 50% since 2008.
The UNDP calculates that on average, across the world, a woman or girl is killed by an intimate partner or family every 11 minutes.
In 2020, the number of state-based armed conflicts in the world was the highest recorded (56) since the end of World War II.
Global military expenditure is at its highest level since the end of the Cold War.
In the United States, significant sections of the population consistently report concerns about political violence – both now, and in the future.
Peace education is the best long-term strategy for providing awareness, and equipping people with the skills they need to deal with conflict and conflict management, “whether it is in the workplace, local community or the international stage.”
Hosting the conference in Rwanda made sense because it is part of the global south. Many international peace conferences take place in the northern half of the globe, giving them a perceived bias, Cooper said.
The peace symposium currently is accepting submissions for proposals from prospective presenters. Johnson said proposals already have submitted from Europe, Africa and the United States.
“It’s exciting, this really is turning into a global conference,” Johnson said.
Registration for the conference will open soon, with registration for students at $25 and all others at $75.
While the event is expected to attract a large international audience, Johnson said the goal is to keep the cost affordable for as many to attend as possible, knowing that travel from the U.S. will be costly.