“Peace by Piece”: Student Peace Conference Co-Chairs Share Insights into Crafting a Dynamic Event Experience

Author: Lisa Gallagher

From left, conference co-chairs Lina Abdellatif, Garrett Pacholl, Mia Moran

The 2024 Notre Dame Student Peace Conference, themed “Peace by Piece: Disrupting Dualities in Peacebuilding,” is set to take place on April 12-13, 2024, at the University of Notre Dame. This year’s conference received the second-highest number of student submissions in its history. Registration is now open!

Spearheaded by undergraduate seniors Lina Abdellatif (sociology major, peace studies supplementary major), Garrett Pacholl (history, global affairs [peace studies concentration], European studies minor), and Mia Moran (political science and global affairs major [peace studies concentration], gender studies minor), this year's conference promises to be both engaging and empowering.

In this exclusive Q&A, the co-chairs share insights into their journey of organizing the conference, their motivations, and their aspirations for the event.

How did you come to be co-chairs of this conference?

Garrett: Allison Doctor, a chair of last year's 2023 Student Peace Conference, inspired me to apply for this role during one of our encounters at a Keough School mixer. Her enthusiasm and insights about the conference sparked my interest, and I saw it as a fantastic opportunity.

Lina: Having presented at last year's conference, I felt a sense of familiarity with its structure. This is a chance for me to elevate the voices of fellow students and develop valuable administrative skills crucial for my future endeavors.

Mia: My involvement as a student volunteer in the 2023 conference resonated deeply with my belief in praxis – the integration of theory and practice in peace studies. Being part of the planning team allows me to bridge the gap between these two realms.

How did you decide on this year's theme?

Lina: Our theme centers around shattering binaries. We aim to challenge conventional modes of thinking and encourage a more dynamic approach to peacebuilding. We also liked the idea of the alliterating theme of peace by piece. We hope the theme fosters a conversation focused on breaking away from black-and-white thinking. By taking pieces of different perspectives and nuances of peace--including theory and practice--we can understand the world as it is today, while also working toward long-term sustainability.

Garrett: In line with our theme, we also received submissions from many diverse thematic areas, something we were hoping “Peace by Piece” would bear out. As someone interested in environmental peacebuilding, for example, I was happy to see that the three of us agreed to accept multiple submissions focusing on pressing issues in the climate sphere, such as improving scientists’ perceived legitimacy in America.

Lina: We’ve been able to organize topics ranging from digital peacebuilding to religious peacebuilding, environmental peacebuilding, and more. It’s as if we are witnessing all the puzzle pieces coming together.

What has the experience of organizing the conference been like while managing other commitments?

Mia: While it hasn't been without its challenges, Anna Van Overberghe has been our guiding light throughout the process. Structured meetings and her expertise in logistics have been invaluable.

Lina: It's been immensely fulfilling. I feel like I'm contributing positively to my field of passion – peace studies. Embracing new challenges has been invigorating, and I'm grateful for this opportunity.

Garrett: Absolutely, the journey has been rewarding despite the juggling act. Anna's mentorship has been instrumental, and we're learning a lot about the intricate details of conference management.

What unexpected challenges or lessons have you encountered?

Lina: Organizing a conference has been a learning curve. Our diverse perspectives have enriched the process, teaching us the importance of active listening and collaboration.

Mia: Our varied strengths and weaknesses have complemented each other well, though navigating a three-person dynamic has its complexities. Nonetheless, this experience is invaluable for our personal and professional growth.

Garrett: Indeed, the learning curve has been steep, but it's through trial and error that we are growing the most.

What aspect of the conference are you most excited about, and what do you hope attendees gain from their attendance?

Mia: I hope attendees are left feeling inspired by the conference. Conferences foster community, and they are a great way for attendees to maintain a passion and drive while expanding their perspectives.

Lina: We're thrilled to foster a dialogue on dynamic peacebuilding processes. Through engaging discussions, we hope attendees feel empowered to apply peacebuilding principles in their communities, one piece at a time.

Garrett: I am really excited for the presenters and attendees to meet each other. Conferences are a great way for people who share similar interests to come together, but it’s also fulfilling to meet people with different interests but similar passions – it’s a great way to absorb new information and find topics you may be interested in. We also have an amazing array of presentations that focus on a number of globally important issues. There truly is something for everyone!

The Notre Dame Student Peace Conference is an annual event organized by undergraduate peace studies students at the University of Notre Dame. Its mission is to provide space for both undergraduate and graduate students to engage in dialogue on important issues related to peacebuilding, social justice, and conflict transformation. Registration is now open!