Emma Jackson is a student in the Master of Global Affairs Peace Studies program. Originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan, Emma considers her time with the Kroc Institute as a transformative experience. Emma is currently completing her field experience in Sri Lanka with Search for Common Ground. There, she works on topics related to digital peacebuilding and managing conflicts in online communities. In this Student Q&A, Emma reflects on her experience, and talks about her professional interests and aspirations.
How is your internship going?
I am serving as the Digital Peacebuilding Graduate Intern for Search for Common Ground Sri Lanka for six months. Search for Common Ground is the largest dedicated peacebuilding organization that has worked to end violent conflict and build healthy, safe and just societies all over the world since 1982. Search for Common Ground Sri Lanka is leading several projects focused on digital peacebuilding: from its program to improve the digital literacy of Sri Lankan youth to counter online hate speech and gender-based violence online, to its global training for social media moderators and administrators managing conflict and misinformation in online communities.
During my time at Search, I have been a part of a small team that has prepared a global pilot training for "digital community stewards" (social media moderators and admins of online groups) to improve social cohesion and manage conflict in online communities through a Meta-funded project. The modules focus on equipping stewards with the skills and perspectives to foster online trust and connection, practice nonviolent communication, identify and navigate forms of mis/disinformation, and advance digital safety, inclusivity, and rights. For the rest of the year, we are finalizing this curriculum and making it more accessible to more digital community stewards through a Facilitator’s Guide.
We are also working on developing a peacebuilding chatbot to support social media users in understanding and responding to everyday conflict they face online. We are doing this by digitalizing the Common Ground Approach in a way that encourages learning, practice and the changing of perspectives through conversational design.
My internship has opened my eyes to the many forms of online conflict and violence and several innovative ways to design inclusive digital peacebuilding initiatives (e.g., by developing chatbots, training, and interactive edutainment platforms) both in Sri Lanka and globally.
What are some of the biggest challenges and learning points during your internship?
When Search for Common Ground first confirmed my internship in the spring of 2022, it was unclear if I could travel to Sri Lanka in July, given the economic and political situation. However, after some thinking on my side and several discussions with Search for Common Ground Sri Lanka and the Kroc Institute, we decided to move forward with travel plans.
My biggest challenge was arriving in a country not knowing what the situation would be like despite all the online research I did or conversations I had. Let's face it; I was consuming misinformation from my regular news sources. Sri Lanka is certainly undergoing a difficult time, but it is not an anarchy or total humanitarian disaster like Western media portrayed in several of the articles I read.
For the first month after arriving, getting around was challenging due to the lack of petrol, but I was fortunate to live within walking distance of the office. Despite the minor inconveniences I faced, I have been doing well. This experience points to a larger lesson: that my identity as a white woman from the United States, along with the generous support from the Kroc Institute and the University of Notre Dame, meant that I am well-sheltered from the difficult reality faced by most Sri Lankans.
I hope that future peace studies students strive to make themselves uncomfortable by actively challenging themselves and considering their power and positionality as practitioners (and individuals). It has helped me complexify my perspective and knowledge greatly.
Why study peace?
Study peace if you care about people (or the human rights of people) in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Ethiopia or Yemen. But also study peace if you care about people in your own country or community that have experienced structural or generational violence. While it is important to study historic and current large-scale wars, genocide or refugee crises, studying peace at the Kroc Institute emphasizes that conflict is inherent in our everyday relationships, and may not be something that can be "resolved," but rather "transformed” as John-Paul Lederach highlighted.
Studying peace is pointless if you are unwilling to think critically about power, injustice and structural violence. When studying peace, you need to make yourself a little uncomfortable and challenge your own actions and intersecting identities that potentially make you complicit in the matrix of domination (e.g., through your racial, gendered, class, religious, and ethnic identities).
Studying peace allows you to dig deeper and think critically through different lenses to challenge your perceptions and positionality. Looking inward and reflecting is fundamental in understanding the complexities of a conflict and serves as an essential basis to imagine peace through healthier, more just relationships in your community, country, or internationally.
How would you describe your experience with the Kroc Institute?
My time at the Kroc Institute has been an important and transformational experience. While I started graduate school with several years of experience in peacebuilding and development, I felt there was limited time to gain a more holistic theoretical/academic perspective on the issues I was working on each day.
When you work in NGOs or the public sector, you are often rushing around to develop projects, organize events, conduct monitoring and evaluation, or manage a limited budget. This can lead well-meaning practitioners to lose sight of vision or critical reflection, which can be detrimental to the work you are trying to accomplish.
The Kroc Institute provides students countless opportunities to unpack theory, utilize different lenses/methods and engage in research. However, I think this curriculum is unique in its emphasis on building a reflective peacebuilding practice, which truly deepens your knowledge and perspective to advance justpeace.
What is your dream professional path?
Several Kroc alums told me that their path has not always been linear, and this may also be true for me. My dream professional path is to find a way to connect my interests in bridge-building, conflict transformation and technology in the United States. I will continue to take steps in this direction and see where it takes me!
Where are you on a Peacebuilding Wheel?
My previous work in inter-religious dialogue and engagement places me in the "dialogue/conflict resolution strategies" section of the Strategic Peacebuilding Wheel. The work I have been involved in with Search is also linked to the "Education" and "Dealing Transnational and Global Threats" sections of the wheel. As online conflict and violence spans national boundaries, so must the strategies to prevent, address, and transform conflict.
Share a fun fact about you!
Since I started my studies at the Kroc Institute, my classmates have opened my tastebuds to Gambian cuisine (even though I have never visited), and my all-time favorite dishes are Nyebe and Domada.