2017 Student Peace Conference Co-Chairs: Leah Landry and Victoria Lew

Author: Amy Pracht

The Notre Dame Student Peace Conference is an annual event organized by students for students. Its mission is to provide space for undergraduate and graduate students to engage in dialogue on important issues related to peacebuilding, social justice, and global issues. It is intended as a learning environment where students can share their research with other students and network with peers who share their personal passion and academic interest in peace.

This year’s conference “Pathways to Peace” will be held March 31 – April 1, 2017, at the Hesburgh Center for International Studies on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. Registration is now open.

What has organizing a student-run peace conference been like this past year?

Leah:  Very fun and very busy! Tori and I are constantly juggling four committees and three special project commissioners as well as choosing and organizing the logistics for our keynote speaker, Nell Bolton. Luckily for us, our advisor, Anna Van Overberghe, and the Kroc faculty and staff have been so supportive and helped us pull everything together.

Tori:  The process of putting together a conference is a hectic, but exciting one! You get to shape the message that will be conveyed to people who come to your conference and that is a cool impact to have.

What has been the most exciting thing about working on this student-organized conference?

Leah:  Seeing pieces of the conference come together. Each time we hit a major milestone, like our submission deadline, putting our design on the website, or sending out acceptance letters, Tori and I are always so excited.

Tori:  There are moments when Leah and I look at each other and we both think, “Wow, this is a real conference we’re putting together.” I love that as an undergraduate student, I have this opportunity to create a forum for peacebuilders and change-makers around the world to come together and share their innovative ideas.

What are some challenges you have faced?

Leah:  Trying to differentiate our conference from last year’s conference. The conference last year was incredibly well run and had a great design. We wanted to make sure our conference is distinct, but also equally memorable. 

Tori:  I think the biggest challenge is translating my excitement for the conference to the rest of the committee members. I’m still in the process of learning how to be that kind of leader. It will be something I will be continually trying to do up until the conference ends.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned from organizing a conference like this one?

Leah:  It was important to me to keep the overarching vision of the conference in mind, while simultaneously handling all the small details. It’s difficult to not lose sight of the vision when we are in the middle of three Excel spreadsheets full of presentation submissions.  Balancing those two things has been a great learning experience for me.

Tori:  I think the biggest lesson I have learned from organizing this conference is that your life will always be easier if you learn to compromise and go with the flow. You have to keep the big picture in mind and let that guide you, rather than let yourself get caught up in details that really won’t change the quality of your conference at the end of the day.

Why did you want to be involved in running the 2017 conference?

Leah:  First, Tori and I have imagined running the peace conference together since our sophomore year working on the hospitality committee. It makes me so happy that we have the opportunity to run this year’s conference together.  Second, I also struggled adapting to the unique culture at Notre Dame during my freshman year and joining the peace conference committee during my sophomore year finally made me feel like I had a place on this campus. I started working on the hospitality and academic committees, and it was the first time I felt like I found a group of people at Notre Dame who really understood me and the things I am passionate about. In my senior year, I wanted to take a leadership role and hopefully help other students find a place here.

Tori:  Before I transferred to Notre Dame in 2014, I remember searching the Kroc Institute website to learn as much as possible about the undergraduate peace studies program. When I discovered that undergraduates ran an annual conference for the department, I was excited. I had spent my freshman year of college in Vancouver, British Columbia organizing the largest student-run leadership conference in Canada.  I loved working with a team of peers to bring people together at a conference in order to inspire and teach. If I had stayed at my original school, I would have spent the rest of my college years working on that conference. But now at Notre Dame, the idea of working on the Student Peace Conference seemed right up my alley. From the start of my involvement in 2014, Leah was my partner working on the hospitality aspects of the conference. Soon, we began coming up with ideas that we would want to implement if we were ever the co-chairs. At the time, we joked about it, but I think it’s the reason why we were ready to run the conference this year. I was eager to have the chance to take on more responsibilities and lead a team. I truly believe this conference makes an impact on those who attend and those who present at the conference. This event simply furthers the mission of the Kroc Institute.

Why should students/faculty attend a conference like this?

Leah:  The Peace Conference is a great place to learn about world problems and brainstorm creative solutions in an uplifting and positive environment. Both the presenters and attendees of the conference are intelligent, passionate, and committed to making the world a better place. With our current political climate, I think everyone could use a place where they feel hope for our collective future.

Tori:  There are very few student-led conferences in the field of peace studies and that alone is a draw. But also, the students we bring to the conference to present are sharing innovative and exciting ideas that actively contribute to peacebuilding efforts around the world. As a student, to be able to spend a weekend with some of the most passionate and creative minds in peace studies is quite exciting. You will get to meet peers from across this country and even from across the globe. As a faculty member, you get the opportunity to hear about students’ own research and even provide feedback and criticism to help further their projects. Faculty input is very appreciated, especially since the Kroc faculty are leaders in their respective fields and have so much they could share with us!

What do you hope attendees will gain from this conference?

Leah:  Attendees will be exposed to new ideas and ways of thinking. They will also make valuable connections with people who are also excited about peacebuilding and social justice. Plus, the Purple Porch is catering and their food is delicious so everyone can enjoy a great meal with new friends!

Tori:  I hope this conference acts as fertile soil for ideas and networks to grow and flourish and I hope that at the very least, attendees will be renewed in their efforts to build peace in their communities. I hope they feel support from other attendees and come out of the conference knowing there are concrete steps they can take to slowly build a pathway to peace.

Does this conference benefit people who are not part of the peace studies program?

Leah:  The conference is so interdisciplinary that I think everyone can connect his or her area of study into the work of peacebuilding. Also, the conference is a great way for people who haven’t had much exposure to peace studies to see all the amazing ways people apply it to real life.

Tori:  Peace isn’t just a phenomenon created by social scientists, but one that is formed from the work of all disciplines. Whether you are a filmmaker, an engineer, a scientist, or an architect, your talents are needed in the efforts to build pathways to peace. I encourage students from all disciplines to attend, because this conference gives you the opportunity to learn about the issues and then actively involve yourself in a way where you can contribute your own unique talents.

Why did you choose to pursue peace studies?

Leah:  I have always been passionate about social justice, but I never knew how to make a concrete difference. Peace studies teaches you practical strategies for making the world a better place. It’s an opportunity to be surrounded by students and professors who share that vision and provides an opportunity for great conversations about how we can change the world.

Tori:  As a student, I knew I wanted to engage my education with more than just political science courses. I needed my degree to have a structured aspect of social justice. Peace studies focuses on those systemic injustices that cause poverty, violence, and death; and ultimately, I want to dedicate my life to addressing such injustices. Also, when I was stalking Kroc’s website and reading up on the professors’ bios, I was blown away by the quality of the faculty. I like to think both peace studies and political science are my primary majors. For me, they have worked together and balanced each other in creating the perfect academic track.

How has co-chairing the 2017 Student Peace Conference prepared you for the future?

Leah:  It’s been a great experience in managing people and details. We have one of the biggest committees ever, so keeping track of everyone and everything is a great skill I’ve been working on this year.

Tori:  Co-chairing has certainly taught me how to juggle many things at one time. After every meeting, Leah and I go through a list of things that we need to finish before our next meeting. As full-time students, this definitely means getting smart with your time-management skills.

What advice would you give to next year’s conference chairs?

Leah:  Work ahead! Try to get as much done as possible during the fall semester so you don’t feel overwhelmed second semester of your senior year. Working ahead makes the whole process smoother and more enjoyable!

Tori:  Never lose sight of why you wanted to be involved and let your excitement drive you until the weekend of your conference. It is so easy to get burned out, but it won’t become a burden if you remind yourself why you love the conference. Also, my advice is to love your co-chair! You’ll be spending hours on end with that person and they are your go-to whenever you need help or advice.  

Contact: Anna Van Overberghe, 574-631-8535, vanoverberghe.11@nd.edu