Conflict Analysis and Resolution Students Participate in the UN’s International Day of Peace
By Buzz McClain
This wasn’t your ordinary homework assignment. Imagine being asked to create a proposal that would suggest ways to bring peace to a university, a community, or an entire country. The reward was to present the proposal at the United Nations building in New York City during the 30th observance of the International Day of Peace in late September.
About a dozen students, most of them undergraduates, from Mason’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (S-CAR) were selected to take up this challenge and exhibit and explain their proposals in front of hundreds of other students at the UN, with countless others around the globe watching via videoconferencing.
“It’s a pretty big deal, and an honor for the students,” says Mason’s Arthur Romano, a professor at S-CAR who was also a speaker during the Day of Peace. “It’s a global day of ceasefire, where UN and affiliates try to get conflicting parties to stop fighting, even if it’s just for a day. It’s a wide-based civil society movement where people are doing peace projects all around the world.”
The event included the ringing of the Japanese Peace Bell, remarks by UN dignitaries led by Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, and a panel discussion by celebrity activists that included actors Michael Douglas and Forrest Whitaker, anthropologist Jane Goodall, and author Elie Wiesel. One particularly moving moment, the minute of silence led by Romano, honored those who have lost their lives in the performance of peace building and those who are actively engaged in the work today. It’s the very career Mason S-CAR students are studying to begin.
“My project proposal was to create an initiative to promote sustainable peace building in the former Yugoslavia, specifically Croatia,” says junior Peter Cuppernull. The idea stemmed from a summer internship in Brussels working for a division of the Croatian government. Although the protracted civil war there has left the global front pages, Cuppernull believes things continue to simmer.
“There are reasons for the civil war, and many of those were never addressed,” he says. “There are still cultural conflicts, a lot of tension among the Bosnians and Serbs and Croats. There are a lot of negative sentiments that I personally feel need to be addressed, or we’re facing the possibility of another physical conflict.”
To prepare for a career in conflict resolution, Cuppernull, who also plays on Mason’s men’s volleyball team, is studying Arabic and Spanish, for eventual postings overseas. “I’d like to get involved in U.S.-European relations or U.S.-Middle Eastern relations,” he says. “Over the coming decades, Europe and the European Union are going to become larger players on the world stage, and the U.S.’s relations with Europe are going to be very important to the success of our country.”
That’s a far cry from his first ideas for his major, which might have been chemistry or calculus. “Once I got into conflict resolution and international relations, it seems I have the opportunity to do meaningful work on a larger scale. It’s not just crunching numbers, it’s actually doing things that affect people’s lives.
“It’s almost like a higher calling.”
It makes sense to Romano, who notes that while the field of conflict analysis and resolution is young, Mason’s study of the field is 30 years old. “A lot of the field’s founding fathers and mothers come from here,” he says. “The field is growing, and we’re growing. People are recognizing the benefits of mediation and social justice work to build sustainable peace.”
U.S. Army Airborne Infantry veteran and Mason senior Robert Rush has seen conflict without peaceful resolution, which is why he decided to major in the field. “I was in the military for four-and-half years and that kind of pushed me in this direction in a way. I know a lot about conflict, but not a whole lot about the resolution part.”
When asked what his second choice for a major was, Rush pauses before finally saying, “That’s a tough question. The work that we do is fascinating. I like to analyze conflict. I like to think that I’m a practitioner of not only warfare, but a scholar as well.
“I have the tactical mindset and skill set to resolve conflict. That’s a big part of me. Now, going through S-CAR, I have the opposite of it, the opposite skill set of what I was doing before—using words and tact as opposed to bullets and bombs.”
Rush’s poster presented at the UN was a proposal to make Mason a chartered member of SALUTE Veterans National Honor Society, which recognizes academic achievement among what Rush says is “the smallest minority” at Mason, military veterans.
His takeaway from the New York journey was overwhelming positive, but how could it not be?
“There was the collective feeling of everybody being there for the same purpose,” he says. “Everybody’s there for peace from all over the country and from around the world. It was a collective feeling of thinking about peace, bringing about peace, talking about peace. It was just a collective feeling throughout the whole room.”
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