An Interview with the 2022 Peace Conference Planning Committee

Author: Jena O'Brien

The Notre Dame Student Peace Conference, endowed by Joan B. Kroc and sponsored by the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, is an annual gathering organized by students and for students. Its mission is to provide space for undergraduate and graduate students from all colleges and universities to dialogue about peacebuilding, social justice and conflict transformation. Each year, the event draws hundreds of students from across North America and around the world. Due to continued uncertainty around the ongoing pandemic and in an effort to make this year’s conference accessible to a global audience, the conference will take place in a hybrid format on April 8-9, 2022. 

This year’s event will focus on the theme, “(Re)Imagining Justice,” and is being led by a steering committee of four students: 

  • Francesca (Frankie) Masciopinto (‘24), Political Science and Peace Studies Major with Digital Marketing Minor;
  • Khya Morton (‘24), Political Science and Peace Studies Major;
  • Jocelyn Orlando (‘24), Management Consulting Major with a Peace Studies and Italian Minor; and
  • Dane Sherman (‘24), American Studies and Peace Studies Major with Gender Studies Minor.

Here, two representatives from the conference planning team reflect on their hopes for the conference, the importance of peace studies, what they are learning through the conference planning process, and the unique perspective students can bring to the concept of justice.

Why did you say yes to serving as committee members for the Student Peace Conference this year?

Frankie: The Kroc Institute is why I came to Notre Dame. I knew from the get-go that I wanted to be an international peace studies major, so I thought this was a really great way to get involved with the Kroc Institute and to give back and make peace studies more accessible to the rest of the Notre Dame community. 

Dane: I think we have all of these really complex issues around the world, and that’s why I got really interested in peace studies in the first place. Especially with questions such as what does justice look like and how can we achieve justice, I was really excited to take the stuff we’ve been learning in my classes beyond the classroom.

What do you think is particularly special about this conference being planned by students and for students?

Dane: We as 19 to 20-year-olds have been brought into this world in a really unique time. We were born right after 9/11. We’ve been through the financial crises as middle schoolers, we started high school during the 2016 [US] election, and ended high school during the height of the Black Lives Matter Movement and the 2020 pandemic. We’ve been bookended by all of these really big events going on in the world. These are global events that we’ve had to deal with, so I think it's really interesting to hear from students and also academics, professors, and practitioners on these really complex issues.

Frankie: I think having it be planned by students makes it a lot more in tune with what students want to see and hear. Having so many student presenters, you’re really getting that youth voice that is important to elevate in this type of conference.

How did you decide on this year’s theme, “(Re)Imagining Justice”?

Frankie: We looked back at past conference themes and past ideas and personally, a lot of the classes I’ve taken at Kroc so far have centered around justice and different conceptions of justice and how we can change conceptions of justice. So we kind of thought of reimaging justice as a way to take what we already learned and explore what it would look like in the future. [The theme] also encompasses a lot of topics which I think is important when you need an overarching theme for a conference. 

As presentation proposals came in, what themes stood out or emerged from what was submitted? What types of content can people expect to encounter when they attend?

Dane: I think that’s one of the really beautiful things about this conference: there are a lot of different people coming from vastly different perspectives on really important issues. We have people from Africa, the west coast and the east coast in the U.S., and other locations talking about things that we know are so central to our lives. 

Frankie: One of the things we found really interesting is that, while all the presentations are going to revolve around justice, we had a lot of really interesting and diverse themes emerge around gender, social justice, addressing decolonization, post-conflict strategies, Native American land rights and what justice looks like in those contexts.

What are your hopes for the conference this year? What is the one thing you’re most excited about? 

Frankie: I’m really excited to have Carl Dybwad, a Norwegian Youth Delegate and student activist speak. I think that it's really important to address environmental justice, especially the ways natural resources and how they’re distributed affect different populations. And of course, having a name like Professor [David Anderson] Hooker as our second keynote is really exciting.

Dane: These conversations are really crucial to have, and the issues we’ll be exploring are really important to how we’re going to live our lives in the 21st century. Thinking about racial justice, climate change, and about really big issues that are on the horizon, I’m excited to be having these conversations with people and really excited to hear the cool papers and talks people are going to present. There’s a wide range of academic experiences and lived experiences that are really exciting.

Frankie: I think being able to have a conference that is able to cover so many topics but is still encompassed by this theme will really speak to the place where we’re at. Because of COVID and the international conflicts that are occurring now, we really need to look at justice and where it needs to be going forward. 

Why should students from all over the world attend the conference virtually?

Frankie: [The conference] is one of a kind, because it's by students for students. It also presents a conception of peace studies that’s not available in other formats and I think that even listening to one of these unique presentations can give someone a perspective they didn’t have before. It's very worthwhile to have this conference and have students expose themselves to peace studies in a deeper sense and gain a little bit more perspective on what justice is. 

Dane: It doesn’t matter what a student's major is. Whether a student is majoring in finance or peace studies, or if they are a first-year or a senior, these issues are going to affect all of us. If we’re going to truly think about our lives going forward, we really need to be having these global conversations about justice.

To register, and for more information about the conference, visit