Gaines Fellow Juried Project – page 2

Peace House Background

I first heard of Peace House in the spring of 2010, when Palestinian legislator and activist Dr. Hanan Ashrawi visited the University of Kentucky, following up a visit by former Israeli President Ehud Olmert. As I began to explore the project of Peace House, I discovered that, in Lexington and at the University of Kentucky, small but vibrant groups have responded to local and global challenges by actively engaging a discourse on the role of peace education in the community.

For the past seven years, Bluegrass Community and Technical College has offered an interdisciplinary Peace Studies Program. UK faculty, led by Dr. Kirby Neil, are currently working on creating a Peace Studies curriculum at The University of Kentucky as well. The Patterson School of International Diplomacy and Commerce routinely draws internationally minded students as well as speakers to UK, while undergraduates have formed a variety of student led organizations from which to approach peace activism, such as the Network of Global Scholars and the Interfaith Dialogue Organization. Additionally, the Central Kentucky Council on Peace and Justice represents members of the Lexington community who are dedicated to promoting social justice. Their “Voices” series this year spanned a variety of topics from the development of sustainable energy as a substitute for coal to interfaith dialogues.

Indeed, there are a wealth of resources already present in the Lexington community, and it is simply a matter of connecting these groups and formalizing the way they interact and seek to enact change in the community.

Peace House was conceived with the vision of creating a living-learning community in partnership with residence life, which would be dedicated to promoting peace in the Middle East and elsewhere. Originally, Peace House was imagined as a space where groups of Israelis and Palestinians would live together, discuss the peace process, and bring creative ideas and first-hand cultural knowledge back to their respective communities. When the idea was switched from this context to the University of Kentucky campus, its vision needed to be broadened and reinterpreted. Here in Lexington, we may not be able to draw large Israeli and Palestinian student populations, but we most certainly have a diverse body of students who are interested in engaging this issue and other equally important topics.

The benefits of creating Peace House are numerous. First, it fills the need for a concrete, physical representation of the University of Kentucky’s commitment to the values of peace and conflict studies in education. It also provides an institutional framework within which students can continue to organize, expand, and develop their commitment to and participation in peace-related leadership, both globally and locally. In action, Peace House would provide a permanent, formal, and legitimate forum to address social or political issues that arise on campus (which have often had to be addressed in ad hoc forums in the past). Finally, Peace House would provide UK students with an opportunity to engage the international community on major issues that transcend the university setting.

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