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2021 Notre Dame Student Peace Conference draws hundreds virtually

The 2021 Notre Dame Student Peace Conference, the first to be held virtually, drew over 180 attendees from 46 universities and colleges. Attendees represented higher education institutions in 19 different countries, including Canada, China, Colombia, the Gambia, Germany, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malta, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Peru, Serbia, South Africa, South Korea, South Sudan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The conference, a signature event of University of Notre Dame's Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, is an annual gathering organized by students and for students. Its mission is to provide space for graduate and undergraduate students to dialogue about peacebuilding, social justice, and conflict transformation.

The Conference planning committee offered remarks to kick off the conference.

Events took place from April 15-17, 2021. The theme for this year's conference was “Beyond the Surface: Moving the Needle on Global Peace.”

Conference sessions (from left to right): Conference planner Oneile Baitlioti introduces speaker Rajarshi Chakraborty of Jawaharlal Nehru University who presented on the Afghan peace deal; participants in a session on gender and identity in peacebuilding included Andra Camila Farfán Ardila from Pontifica Universidad Javeriana, Rhona Conway-Kenny from Leiden University, and Clare Stoyell-Mulholland from the University of Notre Dame (moderator); and Patrick McCabe, Conal Fagan, Sarah Galbenski from Notre Dame and Elaina Mohr from the University of Waterloo speak during a session on mediation and reconciliation.

The conference schedule included 18 sessions featuring 49 presenters on topics ranging from environmental peacebuilding to conflict resolution in secondary schools in Kenya to addressing systemic discrimination, mediation, reconciliation, and more.

"The edges are the places where voices can gain resonance. It's the edges that help return us to our humanity that is far too easily lost."

John Paul Lederach, professor emeritus of international peacebuilding at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies during his keynote address, "A Sautnering Field Trip: The Extraordinary Arc of a Thousand Conversations...Plus a Few Side Notes on the Way to a Peace Conference"

The conference featured two keynote addresses. Conference planner Conal Fagan, a senior studying political science and peace studies, served as the moderator for Lederach's session. Following his address, Lederach spent close to an hour engaging questions from attendees.

"Getting to moderate the conversation with John Paul Lederach is something which I'll always remember! His application of knowledge, ability to captivate the audience and his desire to challenge the listener and stretch their imagination is unparalleled. We were so lucky to have had John Paul speak this year," said Fagan.

"What motivates you to choose peace? Remember and reconnect to those sources of inspiration."

Bridget Moix, U.S. Executive Director of Peace Direct, offered the second keynote address on Saturday, April 17. Her remarks were entitled "Shifting Power for Peace: The Role of Local Communities in a New Era of Global Peacebuilding."

She left attendees with a challenge to get involved and to find ways to learn, act, and join in their own communities and with programs that fit their passions.

Moix's presentation was a highlight for conference planner and Notre Dame junior Grace Conroy, who said, "I had the honor of introducing Bridget and hosting the Q&A time where many people asked incredibly insightful questions. Her experience and presentation were inspiring."

In addition to presentations and keynote addresses, conference attendees had chances to network and get to know one another through virtual hangout spaces and a conference game. The game included 16 different networking challenges that attendees could complete in order to earn virtual points.

Overall, conference planners were pleased with the ways that attendees actively engaged the virtual format and excited about the wide variety of peacebuilding content presented throughout the weekend.

"Providing a tangible experience despite the virtual format and coming away with new connections that will help me to branch my areas of expertise and root my future was a highlight," said conference planner Nicholas Clarizio, a Notre Dame sophomore.

About the Kroc Institute: Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute, part of the Keough School of Global Affairs, is one of the world’s principal centers for the study of the causes of violent conflict and strategies for sustainable peace.

To learn more about peace studies at the University of Notre Dame, visit kroc.nd.edu.