Peace and conflict studies gains regular major

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On Oct. 13, following a unanimous vote by the faculty, the college approved a regular major in peace and conflict studies.

The major requires eight credits in PCS, and the minor requires five credits, according to an email sent by PCS program coordinator Lee Smithey to the campus community. All majors and minors will be required to take Introduction to peace and conflict studies, and majors will also have to take a senior seminar. Honors majors will take three honors preparations in PCS and 1 in their respective honors minor, and have the option of writing a 1 or 2 credit thesis. Honors minors will take one honors preparation in PCS and three in their respective honors major.

In 1888, the college offered its first peace and conflict studies course entitled “Elements of International Law with special attention to the important subjects of Peace and Arbitration,” according to a blog post on the college’s website. This was the first peace and conflict studies course in higher education. The college’s interdisciplinary peace and conflict studies program was established in 1991.

According to provost Tom Stephenson, the peace and conflict studies program submitted a proposal which he reviewed with the curriculum committee before sending it to the entire faculty for a vote. Criteria for approving the major include a history of stable enrollment, the existence of a regularized special major, and adequate staffing.

Environmental studies went through the same process and was approved last year to become regular major.

PCS has had a regularized special major for many years, according to Smithey, who thinks the regular major will benefit students.

“A regular major allows us to create a cohort experience since all majors will follow the same set of requirements,” he said in an email. “We are also adding a senior seminar, which will scaffold the learning experience and help students integrate knowledge across their course of studies.”

That said, Smithey thinks the program has always been strong.

“If I think back over the time I have been at the college, we have always had solid student participation in the program, and virtually no turnover in the faculty who serve on the program’s steering committee,” Smithey said. “The arrival of professor [Sa’ed] Atshan and his excellent teaching skills has meant that we can consistently offer a core of peace and conflict studies courses to accompany the dynamic range of eligible courses offered by departments across campus.”

Stephenson agreed, adding that professor Sa’ed Atshan’s arrival as a faculty member concentrating in peace and conflict studies galvanized students in the program.

“[The program] really took off about three years ago,” said Stephenson. “The numbers started to increase pretty dramatically then, and the level of student energy significantly increased when professor Atshan joined the program.”

While there were six PCS majors and minors in the class of 2010, there were ten in the class of 2017, 19 in the class of 2018, and 28 in the class of 2019, according to provost Stephenson and the PCS major proposal. Atshan said that this year, his Introduction to peace and conflict studies class started with 76 students enrolled and his Israeli-Palestinian Conflict class started with 55 students. Stephenson said this increase was due to a wider array of offerings and more affiliated faculty.

“The program was existing on the efforts of one halftime person for a long time,” Stephenson said. “Professor Smithey had been the only person who had any formal affiliation with the program for a long, long time, and then we assigned more faculty to the program and then it suddenly took off.”

Atshan believes that the regularized major will increase awareness about the program.

“I think there’s something psychological when students see ‘special’; they often will associate that with increased bureaucracy and red tape,” said Atshan. “I think removing that ‘special’ from the title and being regularized and mainstream will create more awareness among the student body … and it will help us, I think, structure the program and normalize it across the student body even further.”

Michael Nafziger ’18, a PCS special major, echoed Atshan’s ideas.

“The process of trying to get a special major is kind of annoying, and I think more and more students are interested in peace and conflict studies, so it makes sense to streamline  it,”said Nafziger.                                                                                         

“For me, peace and conflict studies courses have done the most out of the courses here at Swat in developing me as a person,” said Nafziger. “My other major is Economics, and that’s very theoretical … peace and conflict studies are a great complement to that, because they’re always about reality, and about real-world issues.”

For Atshan, the work of PCS students has expanded beyond the classroom into real-world issues; he said that two of the four Lang Scholars last year were PCS majors.

Both Nafziger and Louise Rosler ’18, a prospective major, said that their friends and classmates are also excited about the major.

“The people who’ve already declared majors are upset I think, because they wish they could go back and major in this,” said Rosler. “I think that it’s something people here at Swarthmore really value, as a nonviolent approach to conflict.”

The regularized major is proof of the college’s support, and peace and conflict studies seems likely to grow even further in the coming years.

Reuben Gelley-Newman

Reuben Gelley Newman '21 is a prospective Honors English major and is also involved in music on campus.

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