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Community college is making plans
to launch peace studies program

By Brenda Velasco

Spokane Falls Community College (SFCC) is preparing to launch a Peace Studies program that would be the first for a community college in the state of Washington.

Jim Waller
Jim Waller heads process to plan peace studies program

Jim Waller, dean of social sciences and cultural studies at SFCC, said the process to establish such a program takes time and planning with task forces, committees and research. By 2011, organizers expect to choose faculty and establish classes.
Interest in establishing a Peace Studies program at SFCC emerged from faculty in his division.

“This is more than just me coming and telling faculty, we are going to have an interdisciplinary Peace Studies program here,” Jim said. “The teachers here have long expressed an interest in how to connect current world issues on peace, war and human rights within the context of classroom instruction.

There’s been much sentiment to start a program focusing on peace and justice,” he said.  
Jim said the desire to offer Peace Studies goes beyond his division.  There has been interest from faculty in the art department, humanities and deaf studies, the last hoping to focus on human rights issues dealing with the deaf community around the world.   
Part of Jim’s inspiration to establish a Peace Studies program at SFCC came from his research dealing with the origins of conflict.

“I have found that before we look at how to resolve a conflict, we need to find the origins of the conflict, especially asking: What causes hate and injustice? Once we find the root cause of the conflict, then we can look at ways to resolve it.”

Jim hopes these are the types of questions peace studies students  will ask, ponder and explore with their professors.

“Growing up in Georgia, I saw issues with racial tension. I always asked myself why people couldn’t get along and why the color of one’s skin caused so much hatred in the community,” he said.  “It didn’t make sense to me and I wanted answers.”

Those questions stayed with Jim over the years and became a basis for research studies in his professional career. A graduate of the University of Kentucky, he taught at Asbury College in Lexington before coming to Spokane.

He taught social psychology at Whitworth University for 18 years, leading January-term student tours on “Prejudice Across America” and writing a book on that topic and another on Becoming Evil:  How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing (Oxford 2007), to explain why people have perpetrated genocides such as the Holocaust.

“Historically we see that genocide usually occurs under the cover of war,” he said.  “They go together.  It’s under one context.  It goes back to the origins of the conflict.  We need to look at what caused the conflict that led to genocide in the first place.”
These are issues he hopes the new program will cover.

Over the next year, faculty will convene to set parameters and develop a budget and funding for the program, said Jim, who took the position at SFCC two years ago.  While he loves teaching, he is enjoying the new challenges of administration.

 Ideas for the program include offering workshops or courses on social justice, conflict resolutions and human rights. 

Currently, Jim is helping SFCC research similar programs at other community colleges around the country.  One is at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio.   Jim will visit that college in the spring to gather ideas.

“About 25 community colleges nationwide offer peace studies programs.  The closest one to Spokane is in Portland, Ore.,” Jim said.

“We have had calls from local people asking what we are doing and when we will offer the program.  The word is out.  Even though we are only in planning stages, there is excitement,” he said.

Jim said community support will help implement a service-learning component to give students an opportunity to make connections and have learning experiences through area peace and justice groups.
He feels SFCC’s 2009-2010 academic-year theme, “Human Rights: Dignity and Justice for All,” is a good precursor to the Peace Studies Program.

He sees a depth and perseverance in students committed to peace and justice in wartime. 

“Living in the current state of war, we’ve seen how much we have lost because of it and how costly it is both financially and emotionally,” Jim said.  “We have to realize that peace is a solution and a good investment.  The investment is something we need to look at with this program.”

He added that students in this generation have grown up hearing about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“War is such a presence today, and there is the desire among students to look at peace,” he said.

“Students understand what peace and war are and want to do something to bring peace.  This is evident through the response we’ve had to our yearly theme.  They are choosing and wanting to make a difference in this world.”

He also points out that many of the current war issues center around religious conflicts.
“The role of religion in many of these world problems can be a source of tension,” he said.  “However in hoping for peace, religion can also bring the antidotes of healing and reconciliation. Finding this healing through faith and peace is beneficial to those nations that have been torn apart by war.  This is something we need to focus on as well.”
Studying the origins of conflicts and finding solutions will be beneficial to the overall student experience.

Given that students who come to SFCC either stay in town or transfer to schools such as Eastern Washington University, Jim said that nurturing and informing their passion for peace and justice would lead to community involvement.

For information, call 533-3694.