Thursday, April 23, 2015

At UPeace, Peace Journalism takes center stage
(Ciudad Colon, Costa Rica)--Almost everywhere where it’s taught, peace journalism is an outlier: an odd stranger who wanders onto campus with lots of energy and some heretical ideas.

However, here in the jungles of Costa Rica, it’s different. Not only is peace journalism not perceived as odd, but instead, it’s seen as an integral peacebuilding tool. This week, I’m at the University for Peace, a UN mandated (but not funded!), master’s degree granting institution of higher learning.  

UPeace’s mission is: "to provide humanity with an international institution of higher education for peace and with the aim of promoting among all human beings the spirit of understanding, tolerance and peaceful coexistence, to stimulate cooperation among peoples and to help lessen obstacles and threats to world peace and progress, in keeping with the noble aspirations proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations".

These are lofty aspirations to be sure, but nonetheless goals that are grounded in the academic departments here, including Environment and Development, Peace and Conflict Studies, and International Law and Human Rights.
I’m here as a consultant, reviewing the Media, Peace, and Conflict Studies that is offered under the Peace and Conflict Studies departmental umbrella. As part of my consultant’s research, I’ve had the privilege to interview almost everyone at UPeace, including professors, students, and staff.

The students at UPeace are as diverse as one might expect. The small focus group I led had students from the Philippines, South Korea, Mexico, and Cambodia. They said that they love the “UP” experience—studying on this beautiful campus in gorgeous Costa Rica in a place where their peaceful orientations are the norm rather than the exception. The students and I also discussed some curricular and teaching improvements that might find their way into my consultant’s report on the peace media MA program.

As I look over the course offerings in the peace media program, I must admit to a twinge of jealousy. There are so many classes in this program (and in others as well) that I’m dying to take. One is “The role of media in the Rwandan Genocide,” something I’ve talked about in class for years, but would love to learn more about myself. 

A second particularly-interesting course is “Language, Media and Peace,” taught by Professor Leon Berdichevsky. Professor B joined me Wednesday from Costa Rica as I Skyped with my class back in Parkville, Missouri. We had a vibrant discussion about the use of language, and especially about language as conveyed in film and comic books. 

I have a week to cook up my recommendations and serve them up in my report. The upshot will be that while there are structural and curricular challenges to overcome, that the peace media MA program at UPeace is well positioned to help lead a renaissance in media and media studies over the coming decades.

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