Kent State and University of Rwanda Build on Tragic Pasts to Forge Global Peace

Conference will bring together peace and conflict experts and educators from around the world.

Kent State University is building on the legacy of May 4, 1970, and the mission of its School of Peace and Conflict Studies, when it joins forces with the University of Rwanda in July to help advance peace education across the globe. 

The universities, along with the nonprofit organization the Aegis Trust, are sponsoring Peace Education in an Era of Crisis, a peace education academic conference and interactive skills workshop for educators and practitioners taking place July 11-13 in Kigali, Rwanda.   

Dr. Neil Cooper
R. Neil Cooper

“The worldwide demand for peace education has risen exponentially over the past few decades because it is recognized as a response to the challenges of social division, polarization, environmental destruction and rising levels of conflict facing specific societies and the international system,” said R. Neil Cooper, Ph.D., director of Kent State’s School of Peace and Conflict Studies. 

The conference is expected to be attended by delegates from 14 nations and nine U.S. states, including a large group of Kent State educators and students, administrators from the Stow-Munroe Falls School District in Northeast Ohio, and delegates from the Fairfield (Ohio) City School District and Ohio State University. 

The conference is being sponsored by Kent State’s School of Peace and Conflict Studies and the Gerald H. Read Center for International and Intercultural Education within Kent State’s College of Education, Health and Human Services (EHHS), and the Centre for Conflict Management at the University of Rwanda. 

Conference highlights include: 

  • James Smith, M.D., founder of the Aegis Trust, an international organization that works to prevent genocide and mass atrocities worldwide, will deliver the keynote speech for the conference. 

  • Barbara Wien, co-director of Peace Brigades International and senior professional lecturer at American University’s School of International Service in Washington, D.C., will facilitate a peace education workshop. 

  • Sarah Schmidt, assistant director of Global Education at Kent State Stark, will be teaching her course “Rwanda After Genocide” in Kigali as part of Kent State’s Kigali Summer Institute. The course will coincide with the peace conference, with the conference built into the course curriculum. Schmidt also will be a presenter at the conference.  

  • Many Kent State faculty will present on varied topics at the conference, including Molly Merryman, Ph.D., associate professor of Peace and Conflict Studies,  who will lead a panel discussion focusing on ways to actively involve students in learning about diversity, particularly marginalized sexualities.

Featured Speakers at the Peace Conference: (left to right) Smith, Wien, Schmidt and Merryman
Left to right: Smith, Wien, Schmidt and Merryman will be featured speakers at the peace conference in Rwanda.


Cooper said the idea for the peace conference was born out of collaboration between the school and University of Rwanda's Centre for Conflict Management, to create a dual master’s degree in Peace and Conflict Studies at the two universities. The idea for the conference is to specifically target educators and show how peace education can be incorporated into school curriculums from kindergarten through high school. 

The aim of the conference, Cooper said, is to bring together educators, researchers and those who operate non-governmental organizations, to share best practices and insights from around the world, to help better equip students and others with the skills they need to build peaceful communities, including dialogue, mediation and empathy. 

“Our world, not for the first time, faces multiple crises, across many issue areas,” Cooper said. “This conference represents one element in the development of an effective response to those challenges – an important moment in the broader everyday work involved in building more peaceful and healthy relationships between people, communities, and even countries.” 

As the director of the Read Center, one of Amanda Johnson's chief roles is to set in motion international initiatives within the college by linking domestic and international faculty, educators and organizations to catalyze culturally diverse scholarship and internationalized curriculum. 

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.
Amanda Johnson

“Rwanda is an ideal place for this conference as the country, since the genocide, has mainstreamed peace education throughout the national curriculum. It, therefore, stands as an interesting model of a country that has recognized the importance of peace education as one element in the effort to prevent conflict,” Johnson said.  

“By bringing together educators and researchers from around the world to discuss the pedagogy of peace, the conference delivers on the Read Center’s mission to examine issues relevant to international and intercultural education, to promote intercultural understanding and to foster mutual learning across national boundaries,” she said.  

Johnson said she was particularly pleased that the Stow-Munroe Falls Schools will send four educators to the conference.  

“These educators will be able to meet with educators from Rwanda and other countries to develop new insights and teaching practices that they can take back and share with their colleagues,” she said. 

The conference is another building block in Kent State’s growing relationship with the University of Rwanda. In May 2022, Kent State’s Board of Trustees approved Kent State opening a base of operations at the University of Rwanda, for creating collaborative educational exchanges and to serve as a base of operations for Kent State’s recruitment throughout Africa. 

Past tragedies link Kent State and the University of Rwanda in a distinct way, propelling both universities to draw on their respective pasts to forge a path toward global peace. 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 1 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. 

Kent State’s School of Peace and Conflict Studies, formerly known as the Center for Peaceful Change, was created 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 after 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. 

Smith, who founded the Aegis Trust in 2000, also is co-founder of the UK’s National Holocaust Centre and Museum. In 2004 he worked with genocide survivors and Kigali City Council to establish the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda’s capital, a site where 250,000 genocide victims are buried. It receives tens of thousands of visitors each year and is the base from which the Aegis Trust’s Peace Education Programme has been developed.

POSTED: Monday, June 26, 2023 09:09 AM
Updated: Monday, July 17, 2023 01:41 PM
Lisa Abraham