For the past four years, I have been working relentlessly to establish a peace studies minor at Binghamton University. In 2013, I created a proposal for the minor, which would combine peace and justice courses already offered at BU into one discipline and enable students to study peaceful conflict resolution and diplomacy. Then, I began the long journey of making proposals to departments that potentially could sponsor the minor.
Many times, my proposal was received with enthusiasm and praise. Departments agreed to offer courses toward the minor and provided advice and encouragement. However, each would later suddenly withdraw their support, often with little to no explanation as to why and they would often begin to ignore my attempts to contact them.
The political science and history departments have stated that they would only be willing to offer courses under the minor, while the philosophy department dropped contact with me after a couple of meetings. The sociology and human development departments both seemed enthusiastic at first, but after several months of working with each, the sociology department decided the minor seemed “explicitly pacifist,” while the human development department backed out without providing me with an explicit reason.
I have spoken with President Harvey Stenger in regard to the minor and although he was supportive, he stated that the minor cannot make any progress without any department willing to sponsor it. I collected over 350 signatures on petitions for the minor. I met with several deans that have given me advice and explained the process of starting a new minor; yet again, without having a department to sponsor it, no progress can be made. Local community members, including attorney Kathryn Madigan (also on the BU board of directors), Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo and several others have also expressed their support. Frustrated by the lack of progress, I eventually emailed every faculty member of Harpur College of Arts and Sciences and received some messages of support, but still no one came forward to host the minor.
As the University is considered to be one of the “premier public universities in the northeast,” it seems peculiar that establishing a new minor has been so tough. It is unclear why peace studies is being resisted in the way that it is. Whatever the reason may be, we have students that are already involved in student activism and it is only expected that we foster student interests by providing them with fresh opportunities.
U.S. college students have grown up witnessing their country engage in several wars and face mass shootings, hate crimes and violent conflicts. In response, students have been extremely vocal in their opposition to large-scale injustices. Just a few years ago, BU students were quick to show solidarity with the LGBTQ rights movement, as well as the Black Lives Matter movement, with several events and large protests being led by student groups on campus.
Since President Donald Trump’s inauguration, activism has only been on the rise. It’s clear that students are discontent with the current state of humanity and wish to be able to make a change. Stenger recently released a statement in support of international students, and faculty members have attempted to turn the University into a sanctuary campus in order to make students of all backgrounds feel safe and welcome. Although BU students and faculty have gone above and beyond to show their support for student involvement and activism, the University curriculum has not yet been adjusted to reflect this.
A peace studies minor would change this. It would enable students to gain a greater understanding of the issues about which they they feel so passionately. Graduate students would be empowered to work toward reduction in conflicts such as shootings and hate crimes, gain a better understanding of people of different backgrounds, better domestic and foreign policy-making and have more expertise in promoting social justice in their personal lives. Such a minor would cut across disciplines, preparing students for future jobs in fields such as education, law and justice, media and journalism, community organizing, cross-cultural programs, humanitarian action, government and social work.
In fact, the University already has an individualized major program, which provides students in Harpur College with the opportunity to design their own program of study, as long as it provides “a theoretical and conceptual framework for a particular course of study” and may combine courses from three or more disciplines. The fact that almost nothing has come from my four-year effort to create the kind of program the University supposedly supports is understandably frustrating.
Peace studies is already offered in several schools around the nation as either a major or a minor. Manchester University in Indiana offers a peace studies major, while The Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame offers both a major and a minor in peace studies. Hobart and William Smith Colleges has a peace studies minor program which “promotes social justice and non-violent resolution of conflict in relations among individuals, groups, and societies.”
The work done thus far on peace studies may need a new approach or a fresh mind, but it should not be ignored and resisted in the way that it has been. If our University truly wants its students to contribute toward a better future, it should take us seriously when we aim to do so.
Mahvish Hoda is a first-year graduate student and the former president of Binghamton University Peace Action.