Building bridges

40 years of peace education at Grebel

January 24, 2018 | Focus On Education | Volume 22 Issue 03
Jennifer Konkle | Conrad Grebel University College
Jessie Castello, a member of Stirling Avenue Mennonite Church in Kitchener, Ont., has just completed her master of peace and conflict studies degree at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ont. (Conrad Grebel University College photo)

In 1977, an academic concentration in Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS) was formally introduced at the University of Waterloo, launched by Conrad Grebel College, now Conrad Grebel University College. It was the first undergraduate peace studies program at a Canadian university.

That same year, the student-run Peace Society was created at Grebel, giving residence students an opportunity to work towards peace regardless of their program of study. In the last 40 years, PACS has grown to offer minor, major and master’s degrees, and has built bridges to 21 different university departments, demonstrating that peace is an interdisciplinary effort.

“The core values of respect, nonviolence and tolerance infuse everything we do,” says Lowell Ewert, professor of PACS and director of the program from 1997 to 2017. “The Mennonite tradition of pacifism, community building and service, derived from a particular understanding of theological and ethical values, provides a spiritual and philosophical basis that our increasingly conflict-ridden world is seeking. Rooted in, and drawing nourishment from, the wisdom of its Mennonite heritage, PACS expresses values of hospitality and openness.”

Jessie Castello, a member of Stirling Avenue Mennonite Church in Kitchener, Ont., has just completed her master of peace and conflict studies degree. After graduating from the University of Toronto with a double major in international relations, and peace, conflict and justice, Castello felt passionate about continuing her peace education.

“I was initially drawn to the MPACS program because of its flexible, course-based structure, and its focus on the role of civil society in advancing peace,” she says. “The MPACS program is uniquely flexible, which allowed me to tailor my degree to my specific interests and career goals. MPACS has been practical and hands-on. I participated in workshops through Grebel’s Conflict Management Certificate Program, worked as a research assistant and participated in an international internship.” She also spent three months in Johannesburg, South Africa, working as an intern with Civicus, an international alliance focussed on strengthening citizen action and civil society globally.

“I think my Mennonite upbringing and the values that I learned through this community contributed to my interest in peace and justice,” she says. “I see faith connecting with peace education through these values and through a desire for a more peaceful, just and compassionate world. I have always found Micah 6:8 to be a grounding piece of scripture: ‘And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.’”

See also: “Peace is everyone’s business.”

Jessie Castello, a member of Stirling Avenue Mennonite Church in Kitchener, Ont., has just completed her master of peace and conflict studies degree at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ont. (Conrad Grebel University College photo)

In celebration of 40 years of leadership in peace education, the current Grebel Gallery exhibit, Beyond Essays: Approaching Peace Education Differently, showcases some of the creations of Conrad Grebel University College Peace and Conflict Studies students over the years. Submitted by PACS student Ambar Hernandez, this arpillera sheds light on the role that the Vicariate of Solidarity played in empowering and protecting individuals during the Chilean dictatorship (1973-90). It demonstrates the artist’s memories of the community coming together to fight for equality and dignity with hope as their shield. (Conrad Grebel University College photo)

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