Giving Peace a Chance

ACC Psychology Professor Dr. Shirin Khosropour understands that the words “peace studies,” may sound a little “hippie-dippy” to some, conjuring up images of the free-spirited 1960s that may not seem that serious.

But with recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and clashes around the world, the study of peace and conflict may be more relevant now than any time in recent years.

“Most of us know someone who has been directly affected by the war,” Khosropour says. “These topics really resonate with students.”

Khosropour is part of an ACC committee exploring options for offering degree or certificate programs in conflict transformation and peace studies. Meanwhile, as a recently appointed Exploring Humanitarian Law Teaching Fellow for the American Red Cross, she will help recruit and train a network of educators who will teach high school and college students about the laws that govern armed conflict.

A native of Iran, Khosropour has witnessed conflict between countries and cultures up-close. Her background, combined with her study of psychology, gives her insight into the roots of discord.

“Having a foot in two cultures makes you more flexible in the way you look at the world,” she says. “It makes me tuned in to the fact that different people have different lenses.”

Much of her early career focused on violence prevention: She researched bullying long before the Columbine High School tragedy pushed it into the national spotlight.

Shirin Khosropour is a Teaching Fellow for the American Red Cross.

Khosropour continued her study of conflict after joining ACC in 1994. In 2007 she was selected to participate in a week-long workshop at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C. Other workshops and conferences followed, and last year she was one of two community college professors appointed to the Red Cross role. As a Teaching Fellow, she will promote the organization’s humanitarian law curriculum to educators, regionally, nationally, and internationally.

Last summer, Khosropour and others on a college interdisciplinary committee began examining options for incorporating peace studies at ACC. The committee includes Gaye Lynn Scott, ACC dean of social and behavioral science, Charlotte Gullick, chair of the Creative Writing Department, and Jerry Shepherd, professor of sociology.

Scott and Khosropour point out that studies of conflict and peace need not be limited to behavioral or social sciences. Studies of war and types of warfare could be pertinent in history or physical science courses, and conflict analysis skills are useful in any career.

“The experiential learning, reflective practice, community service, communication skills, and scholarship that will be embedded in this program will serve any student well, along whatever path they take,” Scott says. “Studying issues of justice, peace, and conflict transformation helps students understand the role of values in guiding decisions and actions, and helps them develop their reasoning, analysis, and critical thinking abilities so that they better understand the world, their society, and themselves.” The committee plans to survey local employers about conflict transformation topics. Their responses will drive the curriculum and program outcomes.

This semester Khosropour has been piloting a conflict transformation curriculum in her Introduction to Psychology (PSYC 2301) honors course. More than managing opposing sides in a dispute, conflict transformation involves examining the experiences and background people bring to an issue to better discern the cause of the disagreement. Khosropour’s students agree that the studies have helped them learn new approaches to resolving differences and new ways to relate to others.

“It’s a pretty big shift in your thinking about conflict,” says student Jim Shook. “It creates a more tolerant view and open environment.”

Shook and the others in Khosropour’s class will host a conference May 4 at the Eastview Campus. “Conflict and Peace: In Your Life, In Your Community, In Your World,” will feature keynote speaker David J. Smith, outreach director for the U.S. Institute of Peace, along with workshops addressing conflict in families, communities, and countries. The conference is free and open to the community. Click here for more information.

Additionally, Khosropour and Gullick will be present “Educating Global Thinkers and Citizen Leaders” at the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD) conference in Austin in late May.

Faculty members wanting to learn more about incorporating peace studies in their curriculum can contact Khosropour at shirin@austincc.edu.

“My goal is to have the community understand that conflict transformation and peace studies are serious topics with substance to them,” Khosropour says. “If we cause people to say ‘I’d like to learn more,’ then we have succeeded.”

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