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Thursday, 12 January 2017 14:47

Starting a Masters degree at age 51.

51 years old and studying toward a Master of Arts, Conflict transformation at Eastern Mennonite University, Virginia United States.

In the Fall of 2016 (Northern hemisphere Autumn, September), I entered the master's program in conflict transformation. During this period, I completed 10/42 unit points of the degree. The programme prepares students to creatively work for long-term sustained, structural change, whether in an organization or community or on a large-scale level. The program is practice-oriented; faculty come from the field and the student body is made up of peacebuilding practitioners from around the world. Conflict transformation has its theoretical and methodological roots in social and behavioural sciences. Students are engaged in practice- oriented socialization to the field of peacebuilding.

 Jayne Seminare Docherty (Academic Programs Director, The Centre for Justice and Peacebuilding, EMU) calls this symbolic, cognitive and effective processing-package, worldview. Otherwise known as culture, worldview is not limited by the concept of society as static, unchangeable nor tradition bound. Worldview is emergent and contested – in effect negotiated by the social actors. Worldview constitutes a social reality where negotiation between parties involves a dynamism of resources, interests, positions, beliefs, aspirations and values. (Docherty. Learning Lessons from Waco. 2001. Syracuse. p. xi)

 The Eastern Mennonite University is located in Harrisburg, Virginia. It is 1.5 hours drive South-West of Washington DC. It is a liberal arts, Christian university like no other and offers multi-faith opportunities to students from all around the world. The EMU website says, ‘An EMU education helps students to discover their purpose in life and prepare to make a difference for the common good at home and around the world. EMU’s rigorous academics emphasize one-on-one relationships with professors, cross-cultural awareness, care for creation, and service to others’. For students at EMU, these values unfold before them. With so many practitioners honing their craft at EMU, it makes me feel assured that peace around the globe is in good hands.


Change management and conflict analysis (6 units)

Foundations I gave a comprehensive overview of peacebuilding practice and its multi-disciplinary, multi-level aspect. This course addresses personal, interpersonal, small group, and organizational-level transformation through research, analysis, theory, practice, and process design that leads to communal and societal levels of transformation.  Throughout the semester, we were required to learn and integrate critical self-assessment, ethical application of theory, technical utilization of analysis tools, and systematic processes of planning and implementation for practice interventions across a myriad of sectors in society.

This Foundations I course is constructed to assist you to integrate all three of these vital elements - theory, analysis and practice – into our peacebuilding practice. As an introduction to the literature and theory of the field; we explored conflict transformation from an individual, interpersonal and organizational level; considered the dynamics of conflict and experience the practice of peacebuilding through reading and discussions, intensive teamwork, interactive case study, role-plays, and simulated practice lab exercises.

Skills competencies were emphasized in the areas of self-awareness, team-building, conflict analysis and assessment, communication, construction of theories of change, strategies for intervention in interpersonal, intra-and intergroup conflicts, and process design.  Mediation, negotiation, facilitation, nonviolence strategies and other transformative processes are introduced as peacebuilding practices.   This course employed the action-reflection learning cycle as the undergirding educational framework. (PAX534 Foundations one syllabus. EMU. 2016)


Research method for social change (3 units)

Leaders of peacebuilding, justice building and social change programs and projects require more sophisticated knowledge of research methods than they did even five years ago. We have always focused on doing research projects with students, but they now require greater ability to design and justify research projects as part of their work. This course presented qualitative methods, because those are used more often in the field than quantitative methods. In addition, the course introduced us to quantitative and mixed methods research so that we could read, interpret, and design appropriate studies.

Qualitative inquiry – rooted firmly in the foundations of the social sciences, critical theory, and social justice – provides us with the tools to explore, unearth, understand, and make explicit the world within which we live: ourselves, others, social issues, interactions, and phenomenon. The course is designed to inspire, teach and engage in the conceptualization and design of qualitative and mixed methods research. Through this course, we are now able to:

·         Contrast paradigms of inquiry and their philosophical tenets (post-positivist, constructivist, advocacy, pragmatist);

·         Differentiate qualitative inquiry from quantitative analysis;

·         Explore, identify, and evaluate qualitative and mixed methods research designs;

·         Learn, distinguish, and practice methods (e.g., intensive interviewing, focus groups, observations, document analysis, etc.) commonly employed in qualitative inquiry;

·         Learn and practice the steps involved in planning, designing, implementing, coding, and analyzing qualitative data;

·         Propose, design, and present a research proposal that includes a masters-level literature review and trustworthiness (validity and reliability) standards. (PAX535 Research method for social change syllabus. EMU. 2016)

Circle processes. (1 unit)

As a style of facilitation, Circle Processes elicit values of honesty, humility, sharing courage, inclusivity, empathy, trust and forgiveness. Kay Pranis said in the Big Book of Restorative Justice (p.307.), ‘Circles assume a universal human wish to be connected to others in a good way’.

This course introduced students to the peacemaking circle process and explored:

·         Foundational values and philosophy of peacemaking circles,

·         Conflict as opportunity to build relationships,

·         Creating safe, respectful space for dialog

·         Consensus decision making,

·         Structure of the circle process,

·         Facilitation of the circle process

·         Practical applications of circle process,

·         Problems and challenges for participants and facilitators in circles.

Students used the peacemaking circle process as the primary form of group work. It provided experience in the circle process as well as an understanding of the foundational values and key structural elements for designing and conducting peacemaking circles in variety of situations. (PAX670 Circle processes syllabus. EMU. 2016)


Sources cited

Docherty, J.S. Learning Lessons from Waco. (2001). Syracuse.

EMU website. Retrieved 12 January 2017.

Rhodes, G. and Stauffer, C. Syllabus (2016). Retrieved 12 January 2017.

Kioko, R. Syllabus (2016). Retrieved 12 January 2017.

Pranis, K. Syllabus (2016). Retrieved 12 January 2017.




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