Manchester University
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May 11, 2018

Zander Peace Coalition Notre Dame (5)

Jesse Langdon, Katie Jo Breidenbach Wooding, Virginia Rendler, Caraline Feairheller and Dr. Elton Skendaj presented at Notre Dame on April 13, 2018, at the 2018 Student Peace Conference.

Photo by Zander Willoughby 

MU Peace Studies Presents at Notre Dame Student Peace Conference 

Avis McGovern 

Manchester University students traveled to the Notre Dame campus on April 13 with Dr. Elton Skendaj to present at the 2018 Student Peace Conference.

The conference was put on by the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and MU students Jesse Langdon, Virginia Rendler, Caraline Feairheller and Katie Breidenbach presented their work. As a class assignment, the students researched and studied peace conflicts throughout their semester and submitted their final project—a series of “conflict maps”—to the Kroc Institute, with encouragement from their professor and mentor Dr. Skendaj.

Feairheller’s presentation focused on the South Sudan Civil War that is currently taking place. “My research looked at the history of this conflict, tracing it back to pre-colonial Sudan, as well as looking at the major actors, structural issues and consequence of the civil war such as famine or use of child soldiers,” she said. “At the end of conflict map I suggested addressing the economic inequalities and fragmentation of ethnic identities in order to create a long lasting peace agreement.”

Langdon’s focus was on the Israeli occupation in Palestine. “I presented a digital conflict,” he said. “I talked about historical events from the perspectives of both the Palestinians and the Israelis. I also talked about the United States’ role in the occupation of Palestine. For instance the U.S. gives over $30.1 million in taxpayer dollars to Israel every day in military aid, which serves to bolster Israel at the expense of Palestinian lives.”

The students spent many hours configuring the information they wanted to present at the event by looking back at notes they kept from their peace studies class with Skendaj; however, they also received a lot of mentoring outside the classroom. “Virginia, Katie Jo, Caraline and I got together with Professor Skendaj to do a practice run of our presentations,” Langdon said. “Since I had prepared my presentation for his conflict resolution class last semester, all I had to do was refresh myself with the material again.”

At the conference the students were also able to meet and hear from some special guests. One significant moment was meeting Robert Johansen, a ’62 Manchester peace studies and political science graduate and a founding faculty member of the Kroc Institute. “This moment was so memorable because it was a reminder of the fact that while Manchester may be small, connections can be found anywhere and it carries such a legacy in terms of its graduates going out in the world and doing peace work,” Feairheller said. “It's inspiring.”

Langdon said: “I really loved talking with Peace Studies students from around the country, and around the world! It was a joy to be a part of this conference,” he continued, “because I now am in contact with a diverse group of people within my field.”

The students received numerous tips from Skendaj as they were coming down to the final days before the presentation. While they practiced how they would convey their research to the audience, Skendaj also helped to assure their confidence by having them place themselves in the audience's perspective. “I think the best advice he gave me was to admit if I did not know the answer to an audience member’s question,” Langdon said. “I was worried about getting asked things I didn’t know, but during the Q&A I was able to answer everything effectively.”

The students directed their appreciation for the opportunity to the MU Peace Studies program. “MU has taken me to the places where peace work has been done, taken me to the places and protests where peace work is being done and has given me to connections to pursue peace work in my future,” she said. “MU has also shown me how being an advocate for peace means somethings using your voice and other times shutting up and listening.

“It has taught me that peace work can be an uncomfortable, exhausting and frustrating process,” she continued, “but the community you find along the way is always there to remind you that hope exists and the world can be better. That is an important and an unforgettable lesson.”