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Summit promotes peace

Katie Peralta | Friday, March 30, 2007

The goal of this weekend’s 15th annual Student Peace Conference is to reach peace through understanding, the event co-organizers said.

Senior Claire McArdle, a peace studies major who co-organized the event with fellow senior peace studies major Katie Mounts, said the goal of this conference is to “focus on the other.”

“We create our identities by saying what we are not,” she said.

This abstract concept centralizes around the idea of understanding, which McArdle and Mounts said they believe leads directly to conflict resolution.

The conference, sponsored and funded by the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and organized by undergraduate peace studies students, hopes to attract not only peace studies majors but also undergraduate students from other areas of study as well as members of the South Bend community to focus on conflict resolution and understanding.

In a world filled with conflict and disagreement, McArdle and Mounts said they believe peaceful negotiation often gets pushed to the back burner and that nations turn to war as a means of solving problems. The goal of this conference and others like it, they said, is to explore the concept of understanding, a more peaceful and reasonable means of resolving issues.

Organizers said that societies around the world are divided socially, politically, geographically and religiously, and people tend to define themselves by what they’re not.

For example, the differences between Muslim and Christian religions are further accentuated by the lack of knowledge and understanding of members of each respective group. These differences, McArdle said, are not necessarily caused by racism, but more by a lack of understanding, so that bridging the cultural gap is a lot harder.

“Understanding leads to dialogue,” McArdle said. Dialogue is conducive to peace, she said, which is key in conflict resolution.

Organizers of the conference have put together a variety of presentations and activities for the weekend. Tonight, conference participants can experience an African dinner, a traditional Kenyan storytelling and a performance by the Notre Dame Irish Dance troupe.

On Saturday, keynote speaker Jill Sternberg will discuss her work in conflict resolution and nonviolence. Sternberg, a member of one of the first classes to earn a Masters in peace studies from the Kroc Institute, has been facilitating the election process in East Timor and will speak of her experience there as well.

Several panel discussions and peace-building workshops will follow Sternberg’s speech.

Both Mounts and McArdle were involved in the in conference previous years, and Mounts said she was excited to be an organizer.

“It is a great way to get involved with the work of the Kroc Institute, which has recently risen nationally and internationally,” she said. “It’s also a great way to interact with faculty outside of the classroom.”

McArdle echoed this enthusiasm, calling the conference “a great way to get to know other peace studies majors and share with our peers things going on outside of the classroom.”

Mounts and McArdle expect around 150 participants this year, which includes both international and Notre Dame students. Although registration for meals closed March 23, anyone interested in the conference can still show up for activities tonight and Saturday night. More information is available on the conference Web site, http://kroc.nd.edu/peacecon07.