In a recent blog post, we announced the arrival of Prof. Mike Wilson Becerril, who will offer TWO NEW COURSES in Peace and Conflict Studies for the fall semester 2022. We hope you will check them out and share with your friends:
What is violence, and how do we learn to think of it? What is war and why is it started? How can it be avoided? How do we know when we are safe, or what insecurity is? How does media treat war and different forms of violence? How does war end? What are the links between war and everyday life? This course centers on these open questions to develop a framework to make sense of, and critically engage with, issues of conflict, violence, war, and peace. In history books, the news, and our language, violence and war seem to be pervasive. To understand and confront them, we must explore in-depth how they are experienced, interpreted, remembered, institutionalized, normalized, and challenged by everyday people. Exploring diverse approaches to war and peace “from below” and across different contexts, we will build tools to recognize and transform different forms of violence.
Most people in Latin America live under various forms of “violent peace.” Although most states are not at war formally, the means of violence have not receded despite several “waves of democratization,” and in fact, these have become normalized or concealed in everyday relations. Latin America today is reported to have the highest rate of homicides, worst levels of economic inequality, deadliest settings for environmental defenders, highest levels of police-committed killings, and highest levels of gender-based violence in the world. Likewise, it showcases a wide range of political plurality and representation, cultural and biological diversity, and rich historical trajectories often marked by successful struggles for alternative worlds, social justice, and international peace. This interdisciplinary course centers on a comparative, thematic, and chronological study of Latin America to understand the layered meanings and forms of violence, different methods and challenges of promoting justice, and lessons from attempts to build durable peace.
We are excited about these new courses and the opportunity to expand our department’s offerings. Thank you Prof. Wilson Becerril!
Dr. Wilson Becerril joins us from the Peace and Conflict Studies Program at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN and before that the Peace and Conflict Studies Program at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York. He received his Ph.D. and M.A. in Politics at the University of California, Santa Cruz and his B.A. from the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, where he completed majors in Political Science and International Studies, with minors in Peace Studies, Anthropology, and History.
Prof. Wilson Becerill’s first book, Resisting Extractivism: Peruvian Gold, Everyday Violence, and the Politics of Attention is published with Vanderbilt University Press. He is the author of peer-reviewed articles in journals that include Journal of Resistance Studies, Terrorism and Political Violence, Peace Review, and Feminist Review. Michael is also a public intellectual, publishing regularly in popular journalistic and online outlets.
Mike says that his scholarship “generates practical and policy-relevant understandings of pressing issues, focusing on how the environment is entangled with various forms of conflict and violence as well as with diverse notions of justice, peace, and security—particularly in Latin America.”
Prof. Wilson Becerill is an experienced instructor of peace and conflict studies courses including:
Introduction to Peace and Conflict
Violence & Peace in Latin America
Environmental Justice in Latin America
War in Lived Experience
International Human Rights and Advocacy
Mike says of his teaching: ”…my teaching is explicitly crafted to cultivate critical reflection, via discussion and writing, on structural and embodied forms of power—including race, gender, sexuality, class, ability, age, and more—investigating histories of oppression and resistance through the experiences and voices of marginalized groups.”
We look forward to Prof. Wilson Becerril’s arrival on campus. Drop by his office hours, and if you see him on a sidewalk, stop and welcome him!
The Ruth Benedict Prize Committee of the Association for Queer Anthropology has awarded Queer Palestine and the Empire of Critique, written by Peace and Conflict Studies Associate Professor Sa’ed Atshan, an honorable mention for the 2021 Benedict Prize.
The Association for Queer Anthropology (AQA) website provides more information about the prize: “The Ruth Benedict Prize is presented each year at the American Anthropological Association’s annual meeting to acknowledge excellence in a scholarly book written from an anthropological perspective about a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender topic. The Ruth Benedict Prize is awarded in each of two separate categories: one for a single-authored monograph and another for an edited volume. Submissions may be on any topic related to lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people, or other gender / sexual formations and categories from any world culture area. Topics may include the study of normativity, queer theory, and the social/historical construction of sexual and gender identities, discourses and categories. Authors may represent any scholarly discipline, but the material submitted must engage anthropological theories and methods.”
“Sa’ed, I am writing to you as Chair of the Ruth Benedict Prize Committee of the Association for Queer Anthropology. It is my great pleasure to tell you that your book, Queer Palestine, has been awarded the Honorable Mention of this year’s Benedict Prize. Congratulations!”🥰
AQA commends Prof. Atshan’s monograph, writing, “This is a most timely and admirably courageous book that challenges the seeming gap between queer activism and anthropology. Atshan traces the rise of the global queer Palestinian solidarity movement from 2002 on, and explores why, since 2012, the movement plateaued — no longer growing nor receding. Drawing on longstanding conversations with queer activists in Israel/Palestine and the diaspora, the author shows how, in recent years, critiques of empire have ironically given rise to an “empire of critique”: an uneven (and often toxic) global field of debate, in which activists and academics based in the West can criticize Palestinian activists in ways that undermine their solidarity-building efforts and expand extant regimes of surveillance, suspicion, and control. An example in this regard are the so-called “radical purists” who believe that there is only one truth about any given oppressive situation and about how to practice liberation. In contrast, Atshan shows that anthropology has the potential to support local activist struggles against homophobia and imperialism by rigorously engaging with, rather than dismissing, the experiences and views of these activists—their simultaneous engagement with multiple axes of oppression.”
On October 22, Professor Sa’ed Atshan, Assistant Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at Swarthmore College, became an awardee of the Arab America Foundation’s 40 Under 40 initiative, meant to highlight the accomplishments of young Arab Americans across the country. The publication remarks, “each of the awardees has forged pathways in their profession and community. They have done stellar work to promote their Arab heritage and bring positive changes to those around them.”
The Foundation highlights both Atshan’s involvement in Palestinian, Quaker, and LGBT human rights activist organizations as well as his two recently published books, Queer Palestine and the Empire of Critique (2020, Stanford University Press) and The Moral Triangle: Germans, Israelis, Palestinians (2020, Duke University Press). Queer Palestine tracks the rise and transnational expansion of the LGBTQ movement in Palestine and argues centrally for the linkage between struggles for Palestinian freedom and the struggle against homophobia. The Moral Triangle draws on ethnographic fieldwork in Berlin within its three titular communities to explore how German public policy and discourse is shaped by narratives of moral responsibility, the Holocaust, the Israel/Palestine conflict, and Germany’s recent welcoming of Middle Eastern refugees. Additionally, Atshan has self-designed two courses focusing on the Middle East at Swarthmore College, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and Crisis Resolution in the Middle East, and has taught many more. Read his full accolade below.
“Sa’ed Atshan is based in Pennsylvania and originally from Palestine. He is a professor of peace and conflict studies at Swarthmore College, having previously served as a postdoctoral fellow in international studies at Brown University, and receiving his Ph.D. in anthropology and Middle Eastern studies from Harvard University. Mr. Atshan has published two books: Queer Palestine and the Empire of Critique (2020, Stanford University Press) and The Moral Triangle: Germans, Israelis, Palestinians (2020, Duke University Press). Mr. Atshan has been recognized with numerous major grants and fellowships, and he has worked for a wide range of organizations, with a focus on public service. He has volunteered on the boards of major organizations and has also been significantly involved in the leadership of Palestinian, Quaker, and LGBTQ human rights activist groups. Much of his work with Arab-American communities has been devoted to mentoring and supporting youth with education and civic engagement initiatives.”
Before the semester is out, we want to take a moment to remember Prof. Thompson Bradley, a passionate and gifted teacher and activist for peace and justice at Swarthmore College, the local region, and the world.
President Val Smith informed the Swarthmore community of Prof. Thompson’s passing on October 3, and the Communications Office provided a rich remembrance of his life, work, and activism. We reprint that below, along with a poem honoring Prof. Thompson by Swarthmore alum Bill Ehrhart that appears on the Veterans for Peace website.
October 3rd, 2019
With deep sadness, I write to share the news that Professor Emeritus of Russian Thompson Bradley died peacefully Sunday, Sept. 22, at his home in Rose Valley, Pa., after a long illness. Tom is remembered for his deep and abiding love of Russian language and literature, his commitment to generations of students, and his devotion to decency and justice in all of his pursuits. He was 85.
Tom is survived by Anne, his wife of more than 60 years, their three daughters, and two grandchildren. A celebration of his life will be held at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 21. in Upper Tarble in Clothier Memorial Hall.
I invite you to read more below about Tom, his remarkable life, and his innumerable contributions to our community.
In Honor of Professor Emeritus of Russian Thompson Bradley
The Swarthmore community has lost one of its most influential and beloved faculty members, Professor Emeritus of Russian Thompson Bradley, whose teaching and passionate intellectual engagement with Russian language and literature were inseparable from his lifelong commitment to and advocacy for peace and social justice.
“No one in this life is indispensable, but Tom came awfully close,” says longtime friend and colleague John Hassett, the Susan W. Lippincott Professor Emeritus of Modern and Classical Languages. “He was a born teacher, completely dedicated to his students. His preferred space was always the classroom.”
“I recall Tom’s gift for making his interlocutor feel heard and appreciated,” says Professor of Russian Sibelan Forrester. “His face would light up in a very affirming way when he heard a good idea or an interesting story.”
Tom was born in New Haven, Conn., and raised not far from there on a farm in Cheshire. His love of languages first took hold at the Hotchkiss School, where he studied French and Latin. In his senior year, he was introduced to Russian, an encounter that ignited his love of the language and its literature. At Yale University, where Tom earned a B.A. in Russian, and later, at Columbia University, where he pursued graduate work in Slavic languages and literatures, this love deepened and took on literary and historical dimension.
Tom’s recognition of the complex dialectical nature of the relationships between Russia’s language and literature and its revolutionary history inspired his impassioned intellectual and social commitments and was the vital current that found expression in all that he did as a teacher, activist, colleague, and friend.
In 1956, Tom married Anne Cushman Noble. That same year, a few months after graduating from Yale, Tom was drafted into the U.S. Army. In keeping with his moral convictions, he made the principled decision to enlist rather than seek a deferment, then afforded to students continuing on to graduate school. He served for two years at an American base in Germany, where he had been recruited for military intelligence for his language skills.
After completing his service and returning to the U.S., Tom resumed his academic career at Columbia. He then spent a year in Moscow as one of 35 American scholars on a cultural exchange. While working in the Lenin Library and the Gorky Institute of World Literature, Tom witnessed the gradual shift from the Stalinist regime to that under Nikita Khrushchev. He also met with and befriended members of the Soviet dissident movement, whose courage he greatly admired. Years later he invited one of them, well-known human rights activist Elena Bonner, to speak on campus.
After teaching briefly at New York University, Tom joined Swarthmore’s faculty in 1962 as an instructor in Russian. Here, he connected with an earlier generation of scholars, especially those in the Modern Language and Literatures (MLL) Department, who had been displaced by World War II and other major conflicts and had immigrated to the U.S.
In Russian, he notably joined, among others, section head Olga Lang, the quintessential intelligentka and a fount of poetry who had worked with major figures in the Communist Party, and Helen Shatagina, who had been born to an aristocratic St. Petersburg family but politically, Tom said, was an anarchist.
“It was a rich culture and wonderful, cosmopolitan world they brought with them,” he once said. “At Swarthmore, we were the fortunate beneficiaries.”
At the College, Tom also found students whom he described as having a “real commitment” to living the intellectual life. His Russian novel class became legendary, invariably drawing the most students of any MLL course at the time.
In their reflections and testimonials, colleagues recognize Tom’s gifts and dedication as a teacher, as well as his capacity to communicate the beauty and power of literature to broaden and deepen the scope of our moral imagination.
Marion Faber, the Scheuer Family Professor Emerita of Humanities and Professor Emerita of German, says she was “astonished to learn that Tom regularly met individually with every one of his students both before and after each assigned paper—a uniquely generous investment of time and a sign of his devotion as a teacher.”
“More than anyone else I knew here at the College,” says Professor of German Hansjakob Werlen, “Tom’s love of literature always came through in his superb teaching, as did his ability to convey the essence of what literature’s particular aesthetic form can do: free up the imagination for the ways other people live and lived in various places and times and make us empathetic participants in those worlds with all their diverse inhabitants. That empathy extended to everyone living in this world.”
“Tom’s grasp of literature was profound, and profoundly moving,” writes Philip Weinstein, the Alexander Griswold Cummins Professor Emeritus of English Literature. “I never knew anyone so passionate about his beliefs who nevertheless refused steadfastly to demonize others whose views he rejected. He didn’t speak much about love—at least not in my hearing—but his whole embodied stance radiated love. Political passion is common enough, but its being humanized and enlarged by love is passing rare. I know of no one else who embodied both these realities so well.”
Tom received tenure in 1968 and chaired MLL for several years. Throughout his career, he never separated his teaching from his social and political activism. Tom spoke of this when he retired in 2001: “I think there are fewer and fewer people in academia today who think of their lives as having to do with a practice outside of academia. I can’t imagine only doing activism, or only teaching. To me they seem as indivisible as literature and history.”
Tom embodied this understanding in his teaching and his activism—both on campus and off—and was at the forefront of efforts to extend the reach of the College curriculum to the larger community.
“Tom was devoted, personally and politically, to decency and justice, and virtually everything he did reflected those commitments,” says Professor Emeritus of Philosophy Rich Schuldenfrei, a longtime colleague and friend. “He was politically active on the left for his whole adult life [and] a leader in mobilizing the College against the war in Vietnam. He mentored conscientious objectors and arranged for training for the faculty to do so. He was active for many years with Veterans for Peace.”
Before opportunities and support for connecting the curriculum to the community were common, Tom forged that path in his own teaching. As Professor Faber notes: “He not only brought contemporary poets like the Vietnam War veteran W.D. Ehrhart ’73 to the College but also taught literature classes in prisons.”
Adds Hugh Lacey, the Scheuer Family Professor Emeritus of Philosophy: “He was always there when it mattered—speaking, organizing, and teaching countless students outside of the formal classroom setting and inspiring them to think and act in new ways.”
Professor Lacey credits Tom with generously participating in, and often leading, many of the activities that made Swarthmore College “live up to its claim to be a community.” Those efforts included organizing a full day of talks and activities to celebrate the first Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day; engaging in the Faculty Seminar on Central America in the 1980s to educate the general public about the wars and U.S. foreign policy in the region; supporting the Sanctuary Movement for refugees from those wars; developing a faculty exchange program with a university in El Salvador; and, in the 1990s, helping to create and sustain the Chester-Swarthmore College Community Coalition, which planned educational and other collaborative programming and opportunities for students from Swarthmore and Delaware County Community Colleges and residents of Chester, Pa.
After he retired in 2001, Tom became what one alumnus describes as a “foundation stone” of the College’s Learning for Life program (LLS). Three years later, colleagues and former students published Towards a Classless Society: Studies in Literature, History, and Politics in his honor. Counting his additional years of teaching Russian literature to legions of devoted alumni in New York and Philadelphia through LLS, Tom’s Swarthmore teaching legacy extended nearly 50 years.
Tom was always generous with his time and knowledge. In a 2014 interview, he provided a powerful perspective, unheard until that time, on the division among faculty members during the 1969 Admissions Office takeover.
Tom once said of his European colleagues, several of whom he counted as teachers (and “luckily” as friends): “I always felt, when one of them died, as if more than a person or colleague had gone, but a whole world.” It is not a stretch to say that Tom’s death has left a similar void.
“I’ll always remember him as a loving man, a convivial host at his home, encircled by his beautiful family,” Professor Faber says. “And I’ll always remember him as a man of great élan, in his long black winter overcoat, beret and red scarf, striding to a classroom or a meeting.”
As Professor Schuldenfrei writes, Tom “leaves behind family, friends, political allies, and colleagues who will miss him and forever think of him as a model of political commitment and integrity, and personal loyalty and love.”
He looked like Lenin. Really.
I’ve never forgotten the first time
I saw him, fifty years ago; I had
to do a double-take, knowing Lenin
had been dead for nearly fifty years.
He’d pace back and forth, gesticulating
to a classroom full of college kids
while rolling a cigarette, explaining
Russian Thought and Literature
in the Quest for Truth.
What Lenin took for truth, I’ve
no idea, but through the years
I came to know that truth meant
justice, peace, honesty and fairness,
decency and generosity to Tom.
You name the issue, Tom was always
on the side you wanted to be on:
wars in Asia, the Americas, the Middle East;
civil rights, prisoners’ rights, women’s rights,
gay rights, the right to live with dignity.
He looked like Lenin, but he lived
a life that Lenin would have envied,
or certainly should have. If Tom had led
the Revolution, I’d have followed him
to hell and back and into heaven.
– W. D. Ehrhart
As a radical Swarthmore professor, Tom developed a friendship with Ehrhart, then a returning Vietnam combat vet who felt like a fish-out-of-water on the Swarthmore campus.
We are delighted to announce that Dr. Amy Kapit will join the Peace and Conflict Studies program, starting Fall 2019.
Professor Kapit will offer a range of exciting new courses:!
Humanitarianism: Education and Conflict
Afghanistan: Where Central and South Asia Meet
Senior Capstone Seminar
(Scroll down to the bottom of this post for course descriptions!)
Dr. Kapit graduated from New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development with a Ph.D. in International Education in 2016. She holds a B.A. in Religion and Peace and Conflict Studies from Swarthmore College.
Dr. Kapit’s research, scholarship, and teaching focuses on the relationships between education and conflict, and on the field of education in emergencies—the provision of education as a form of humanitarian aid. Most recently, she has worked as the Research Director of the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) and as an Adjunct Assistant Professor in International Education at NYU Steinhardt, where she has taught courses on Politics, Education, and Conflict and Qualitative Research Methods. As GCPEA Research Director, she has developed the organization’s research agenda related to monitoring and reporting violence committed against students, educators, and educational facilities in areas of armed conflict and political violence. She was the lead author of the report Education under Attack 2018.
During her graduate and post-graduate career, Dr. Kapit has conducted research on education in emergencies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and in Afghanistan. From 2014 to 2016, she was the Research Director of the Assessment of Learning Outcomes and Social Effects of Community-Based Education in Afghanistan. The study, led by professors at New York University and the University of California—Berkeley, examined a community-based education program being implemented by two NGOs in approximately 200 villages in Afghanistan.
In addition, Dr. Kapit has studied the origins of the global movement to protect education from attack and how that new international advocacy network has—or has not—shaped efforts to address violence, harassment, and threats against students, teachers, and educational facilities in places where these attacks occur. Specifically, she has conducted research on the humanitarian community’s efforts to protect students, teachers, and schools in the Middle East.
We look forward to having such a remarkable scholar and teacher join our program!
New courses by Prof. Amy Kapit:
PEA 072 Humanitarianism: Education and Conflict (Fall 2019, Fall 2020)
This course will introduce students to the theory and practice of humanitarianism and, specifically, the provision of education as a humanitarian intervention—what practitioners call “education in emergencies.” The course will delve into the foundations and history of humanitarianism and track how humanitarian intervention evolved over the course of the 20th century, broadening and deepening in scope. It will explore continuing debates over the appropriateness of education as a humanitarian intervention and examine what types of educational interventions are prioritized by humanitarian agencies, as well as the goals that those interventions are trying to achieve. For example, what is the relationship between education and conflict and how do education in emergencies providers intervene to alter that relationship? Students will have the opportunity to study specific examples of education in emergencies programming in countries such as Afghanistan, Colombia, Nepal, Sierra Leone, and Syria, and to hear from guest speakers working in the field of education in emergencies. The course will encourage students to apply what they have learned to policy-oriented exercises.
PEAC 052 Afghanistan: Where Central and South Asia Meet (Fall 2019, Fall 2020)
This course examines conflict, politics, culture, and daily life in present day Afghanistan. Occupying a historic crossroads in Asia, Afghanistan is a place of regional, ethnic, and cultural diversity. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, internal and external actors, including the British Empire, Pashtun dynasties, the Soviet Union, the Taliban, the United States and its allies, and the Islamic State, have battled for control of Afghanistan. Today, as conflict continues, the international community exerts significant influence on Afghanistan’s politics, security, economy, and social institutions. This course will explore themes related to conflict, peacemaking, statebuilding, and international intervention, and their intersection with cultural and ethnic diversity, religion, gender norms, and the lived experiences of Afghan people. Students will read memoirs, literature, and scholarly work from various disciplines.
PEAC 022 Peace Education (Spring 2020, Spring 2021)
In this introductory course, students will explore the historical, ethical, and theoretical foundations of peace education, a subfield of peace and conflict studies. Students will consider different approaches towards peace education: should peace education be oriented towards eliminating physical violence? Facilitating co-existence and understanding? Teaching human rights or citizenship? Empowering the dispossessed and eliminating inequality and injustice? Is peace education best integrated in the existing schooling system, an extracurricular activity, or should it be distinct from schooling? Using case studies, students will critically examine different types of peace education and explore existing research on how they do—or do not—work.
Peace and Conflict Studies Professor Lee Smithey Explores the Use of Repression—and How It Can Backfire
Lee Smithey, associate professor of peace & conflict studies and sociology, is a co-editor and contributor to a new book, The Paradox of Repression and Nonviolent Movements (Syracuse University Press, 2018), that offers an in-depth exploration of the use of repression in political arenas and its unintended effect of sometimes fanning the flames of nonviolent resistance.
“The concept of backfire, or the paradox of repression, is widely understood to be fundamental to strategic nonviolent action, but it has not been fully investigated. It was work that needed to be done,” says Smithey, who in addition to writing and teaching about nonviolent resistance has also participated in peaceful protests. “Power is not only about repression but also about building public support.”
The book, edited by Smithey and Lester Kurtz, a George Mason University sociology professor, is meant as a tool for scholars and activists to understand how repression works, as well as to study significant incidents when nonviolent activists took measures to help make repression a defining moment. For example: “When authorities are seen as attacking or disrespecting widely shared symbols, they may mobilize people in defense of shared collective identities,” write Smithey and Kurtz.
The editors first wrote about the topic in 1999, but organizing for the new book began in 2009—bringing together diverse, global contributors to study how repression can energize nonviolent movements and how nonviolent activists have worked to manage repression in their favor. It includes the grassroots efforts of nonviolent resistance such as Women of Zimbabwe Arise, who bravely joined forces as “mothers of the nation” to stand against dictator Robert Mugabe.
As they planned the book, Smithey and Kurtz organized a two-day writing retreat for the contributors to help build an integrated approach to the project. “It was intellectually exciting,” Smithey says. “We were committed early on to making this book a collaboration between academics and practitioners.”
One practice the book’s authors explore is called repression management—enacted by withstanding or avoiding repression or by creating scenarios in which repression against nonviolent activists would more likely elicit a sense of public outrage (and ultimately support).
One example, Smithey says, is the now-iconic photo of Ieshia Evans, who stood stoically in a flowing dress and faced a line of law enforcement officers in riot gear as she protested the shooting death of Alton Sterling. The photo, taken in downtown Baton Rouge, La., on July 9, 2016, quickly became a cultural touchstone.
The Paradox of Repression and Nonviolent Movements also examines the psychological costs for agents of repression, elites’ attempts to avoid triggering the paradox of repression, repression of online activism, and the work of overcoming fear.
“Repression is an attempt to demobilize nonviolent movements by sowing fear,” Smithey says, “but activists can work together to overcome fear and continue to mobilize.”
“Writing from the Wound: Literature and Disenchantment in Postwar Central America”
Nanci Buiza, Assistant Professor of Spanish
Tuesday, December 12th, 4:15 PM McCabe Library Atrium
Open to the Public
Professor Buiza will examine how contemporary Central American writers have made literary art out of a heritage of violence, trauma, and social disaffection.
Torn by decades of civil war and political terror, and more recently by the depredations of neoliberalism and urban violence, Central America has been unkind to the artistic enterprise. And yet despite the adversity, its writers have in recent years managed to put Central America on the literary map. They have made a virtue of their situation by submitting their disillusionments, traumas, and dislocations to the discipline of art and have produced works of high literary achievement.
Of special interest in this presentation is the way in which these writers contend with the senseless modernity that radically remade Central American society after the era of civil wars had come to an end in the 1990s. The “culture of peace” as a code of conduct promoted by market-oriented postwar reconstruction projects; the unresolved wartime traumas that have devastated the social fabric; the disenchantment that took root after the dreams for social utopia had been dashed by the failed revolutions and by the forces of neoliberalism—all these features of the postwar experience are central concerns of these writers, but they also pose problems for what it means to make art. How contemporary Central American literature registers and resists these problems is the focus of this presentation.
I walked into my Introduction to Peace and Conflict Studies class unsure. I was unsure if I had any of the answers to the conflicts we would study, unsure of the conflicts in my own life, unsure if this class would help me or leave me to continue to spin towards answers I couldn’t name. But the most eminent question once I walked into the class was where I was going to sit—front and invoke the possibility of having to speak or back and hide from the questions.
I changed my seat three times that day. The truth, however, was that it didn’t matter where I sat. Professor Atshan would have reached me all the way in the back corner because his passion is limitless. He quickly walked in the room, a smile spreading across his face, books and laptop in hand, spouting a metaphor about how this class was an airport and once it starts it is as if the plane has taken off. Trust me, you want to be on that plane.
Professor Atshan lives a life of incessant learning. He started college in the same place as me, Swarthmore College. He then graduated from Harvard University for his Ph.D. in Anthropology and Middle Eastern Studies. Next, he taught at Brown University as a post-doctoral fellow. Now, he is back at Swarthmore teaching students like me. Within his studies, Atshan has won multiple awards and fellowships including the National Science Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, Social Science Research Council, the Paul and Daisy Soros Foundation, and a Kathryn Davis Fellowship for Peace. But really beyond his awards, it is kind of inexplicable to detail the impact Professor Atshan has on students. I can’t name it, but he stirs up some notion that tells us to partake in activism for human rights of all kinds; even if we are not personally affected, we have the power to lift the voices of those who are.
So, without further ado, I present you Professor Atshan and perhaps I’m also presenting a passion that he will bring out in yourself.
What do you do, and perhaps more importantly, why do you do it?
I am a professor of Peace and Conflict Studies. I love working with young people and supporting them in thinking about how to make the world less violent and more just.
In the first day of your Introduction to Peace and Conflict Studies class, you asked students to tell the class what they are tokens for, what they are often asked to explain or represent. What are you a token for?
I often have to explain what it means to be gay, to be Palestinian, to be Quaker, and am often met with a generosity of spirit, but every now and then I have to deal with all sorts of prejudices. But I do my best to remain patient and compassionate.
Can you explain where you come from and where you are going? This can be literal or metaphorical if you’d like.
I have always been a bookworm. But I try to escape the protective shell of libraries and to be engaged in activism in the real world. I hope to help build bridges between theory and practice.
As a Peace and Conflict studies Professor, can you tell us what the word “peace” means to you?
Peace is not only about the absence of physical violence—it is also about addressing structural violence. Positive peace, in its truest sense, takes intersectionality into account—understanding how all forms of oppression are interlinked.
What is one thing you hope your students will take away from your class, whatever the class may be?
I hope that they find their unique voice. That they recognize their value and their ability to make a difference in whatever domains they are passionate about. That they are the future—and that they give us hope.
As a student at Swarthmore, you scheduled every minute of your day to maximize studying. You then went to Harvard University and then taught at Brown University. How did you find the motivation to accomplish all of this, study so much, achieve success at some of the best institutions for learning in the United States?
I feel so privileged to have had access to these institutions and resources. With this comes a responsibility to help give voice to those who are voiceless. I try to ensure that my pursuit of knowledge is as ethical as possible and that it helps enact change in the world.
What advice do you have for your students beyond college?
I think it’s tremendously important to be true to yourself. Follow your heart, follow your gut, don’t be afraid to be fabulous, treat others with compassion, and recognize your own gifts and power.