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Monday, Feb. 26, 2024
The Observer

Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies celebrates 35th anniversary

The Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies is celebrating its 35th anniversary this week — September 20-24. On Tuesday, Kroc faculty held a panel of speakers and reception to honor the International Day of Peace and the institute’s history. Communications director Hannah Heinzekehr also premiered a short film honoring the last 35 years of the Institute.

The Institute was founded in 1986 by former University President Fr. Theodore M. Hesburgh and philanthropist Joan Kroc as a response to the threat of nuclear holocaust during the Cold War. Kroc donated a generous gift of $6 million to establish “a center for multidisciplinary research and teaching on the critically important questions of peace, justice, and violence in contemporary society” at the University of Notre Dame.

Posthumously, Kroc donated an additional gift of $50 million to the program. Through Kroc’s kindness, the Kroc Institute has now become one of the world’s leading centers for the study of violent conflict and strategies for sustainable peace. Previously, peace studies was only offered as a minor for undergraduates and as a master’s degree, The program has since expanded to include a supplementary major for undergraduates and a Ph.D. program. In 2014, the institute became a part of the Keough School of Global Affairs, which studies international issues with specialty programs in regional areas.

Erin Corcoran, executive director of the Kroc Institute, said the program “equips undergraduate and graduate students from around the world to understand the causes of conflict, inequalities, injustice and trauma that flow from these experiences.” The goal, she said, is that graduates will have the “necessary tools and methods to affect change regardless of the profession or vocation.”  

The staff, faculty and advisory board members are all excellent examples for current peace studies students, Corcoran said.

“Each member of the Kroc Institute has unique life experiences that add a richness to our work,” Corcoran said. 

George Lopez, Kroc professor emeritus and founding member of the Kroc Institute, has an extensive background in putting peace studies into practical application. When he isn’t teaching students, he is advising the United Nations, various international agencies and governments on economic sanctions issues or writing books with fellow faculty member David Cortright.

Lopez detailed his experience working with the United Nations directly after 9/11, where he and Cortright “became deeply involved in advising and then studying and evaluating Security Council resolution 1373 which passed at the end of September and imposed various targeted financial, travel and related sanctions on Al Qaeda,” he said.

Lopez and Cortright wrote “Winning Without War: Sensible Security Options for Dealing with Iraq,” which was called the most influential document for those favoring an alternative to war with Iraq. In 2002, Lopez offered a course called “Terrorism, Peace and Other Inconsistencies” and by the mid-2000s he had involved various graduate and undergraduate students in his work with the U.N.

Over the past 35 years, Corcoran said the biggest achievement for the institute has been its ability “to adapt, reflect and grow to remain relevant not only in the field of peace studies but on the ground in local communities.” During her four years as executive director, Corcoran is proud of the Building Sustainable Peace Conference the Kroc Institute hosted in the fall of 2019 which she said showcased the Kroc Institute as a leader in the field of peace studies.

Heinzekehr, the communications director, emphasized the institute’s valuable alumni network of 1,800+ alumni who are working and living in over 100 countries around the world.

“[They are] engaged in all sorts of peacebuilding work, from environmental justice initiatives to roles at the United Nations, World Bank or U.S. State Department,” she said.

While Kroc offers high-grade courses for students, specifically the Introduction to Peace Studies course as recommended by Corcoran, the institute also has a “terrific line of events open to the public and the university community,” Corcoran said. Some highlighted by the faculty are the annual Hesburgh Lecture in Ethics and Public Policy, the annual Dialogues on Nonviolence, Religion and Peace, the institute’s distinguished alumni award lecture and the Summer Institute of Teaching Peace in the 21st Century. 

Looking forward, Corcoran said the institute will seek “ways to engage our research even more in policy and practice” with a specific focus on combating systemic racism and advancing racial justice.