When Elton Skendaj steps onto the University of Notre Dame campus on April 13 to attend the 2018 Student Peace Conference, it will feel like coming home. Skendaj, a 2001 graduate, attended and presented at the annual conference as a Notre Dame master’s student in peace studies, a Ph.D. student at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and as a visiting research fellow at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies in 2011.
This year he’s returning to the conference again, this time in his role as a professor at Manchester University, North Manchester, Indiana, bringing his own students with him to present and network at the conference.
“What’s special about the Kroc Student Peace Conference is that here aren’t many places where it’s ok to present as both a scholar and a practitioner,” said Skendaj, the first Gladdys Muir Associate Professor of Peace Studies at Manchester. “Even going back to the conference as a Ph.D. student, it was great because the conference focused on peace issues. You could present on peace research or activism, and both were ok. Academic spaces like that are few and far between.”
The Student Peace Conference, sponsored by the Kroc Institute, is an annual event organized by students and 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.
This year’s conference, running April 13-14, will focus on the theme “Toward Justpeace: Exploring the Intersections of Justice and Peace.”
Skendaj hopes that Manchester students will be inspired as they interact with students from peace studies programs across the country and as they learn more about the Kroc Institute’s web of alumni engaged in peacebuilding and teaching around the world.
“I want the students to have exposure to what other excellent students are doing in the field of peace studies,” he says. “For me as a student, it was always beneficial to go and present at conferences. Such presentations help with public speaking and provide motivation to do better work and more research.”
Skendaj says that he has taken Kroc’s scholar-practitioner model of peacebuilding, modeled at the conference and by Kroc faculty, and translated it into his own classrooms. Many of his assignments ask students to research broad peace studies concepts and to assess how global nongovernmental and development organizations apply these theories or skills. He has also invited students to participate in conflict mapping exercises, where they trace the issues, context, and actors present in long-term conflicts in order to understand possible ways to transform the conflict.
“In peace studies we start with the normative statement that peace is better than violence, so that creates certain obligations for us to not just do research, but to do research that provides some recommendations for how to address conflict,” says Skendaj. “I am a Kroc alumnus who takes particular pride in the Kroc training to bridge research and practice. Whenever I go to Kroc alumni meetings, I look around and I see that we are a diverse group, but what we share is often the sense that we are bridge-builders.”
The peace studies program at Manchester University, founded in 1948, is the world's first, and the program has a long history of connection to the Kroc Institute. Katy Gray Brown, the director of Manchester’s peace studies institute and program, is a 1992 master’s graduate. Robert C. Johansen, Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Peace Studies and one of Kroc’s founding faculty, is a 1962 graduate of Manchester’s peace studies program and also returned to the campus as Assistant Professor from 1967-71.
Notre Dame's Kroc Institute is one of the world's principal centers for the study of the causes of violent conflict and strategies for sustainable peace and is an integral part of the new Keough School of Global Affairs. The Kroc Institute offers BA and PhD degrees in peace studies and supports the International Peace Studies concentration of the Keough School Master of Global Affairs.