Peace and Justice Studies explores issues of human rights, social justice, peace, violence, and conflict, exploring their connections and distinctions through an interdisciplinary curriculum that develops the critical thinking skills necessary to face global challenges. Peace and Justice Studies takes a multidimensional, intersectional approach to justice as a prerequisite for peace. The frame of multidimensional and intersectional justice allows us to see the different ways in which power and inequality structure situations and ramify more intensely for some communities, and how within these communities, individuals suffer multiple forms of discrimination.

We explore a range of thematic issues by developing critical analytics that disclose how power and injustice operate in real world cases past and present. Mapping the presence of the past highlights how injustice occurs at the intersection of past and present as voices are silenced, intergenerational traumas repeat, privilege compounds and histories shape and foreclose present opportunities in multiple ways. Analyzing representation discloses how political processes fail populations, how certain ideas become thinkable or unthinkable, how words injure, how judicial blindness discriminates, how narratives and perceptions shape reality in subtle and dangerous ways and how seemingly neutral, rational institutions are moved by sentiments, prejudices and narratives. Structural violence names the intersection of larger forces and individual lives, sometimes becoming legally visible, but at other times compounding dehumanization.

Peace and Justice Studies is about learning that changes how we see and engage the world and how it changes us. Our analytics shape a kind of learning that is beyond the content of specific courses and, instead, embodies a set of skills, a way of being in the world that lasts far beyond graduation and catalyzes how participants in Peace and Justice Studies implement their learning and action in the world. Our courses are distinguished by active and experiential learning, an opportunity for students to engage issues deeply, reflectively, and critically. Our hands-on approach to learning, then, connects Peace and Justice Studies students to others around the world through internships, study abroad, study away and research projects. At the personal level, students are encouraged to engage with their own education and create unique pathways through their program. As one student noted, Peace and Justice Studies provides a space for students to make “aggressive mistakes” and imagine new possibilities. Peace and Justice Studies engagement is change oriented: changing the world, changing the university, changing students’ educational experience, and changing perspectives. It is a direct and expansive change, including and utilizing a set of tools to understand and challenge systemic inequalities. It is learning that creates structural and personal change that is both active and reflective. At the same time Peace and Justice Studies is oriented to change, it is also committed to the distanced reflection of academia.

Our students say that Peace and Justice Studies is transformational. It is about changing one’s-self and one’s perspective on the world. It is about encounters that provide dialogue and experience, foster empathy and understanding. These personal experiences are connected to larger systems of inequality and reflection on power, position and privilege. Peace and Justice Studies is about being responsible and committed. Peace and Justice Studies values all learners and allows students to adapt the program to their goals and learning styles. From MSU to specific places around the world through research, study abroad, and new digital technologies, Peace and Justice Studies enables collaborative learning with others around the world. It is about moving beyond the familiar into zones of difference and discomfort but also attending to making a difference in everyday life at home as well and connecting various sites of learning. We provide curricular and co-curricular forums for exploring ongoing crises and events at the same time that we offer an opportunity to think about the long-term systems and societal structures at the root of immediate crises. Peace and Justice Studies provides a context for what one student identified as “a focus on systemic responses instead of just a reflex against whatever evil is most obviously identified in the media.”

I continue to be inspired by the work of our faculty and students in engaging the multiple challenges posed by the contemporary moment. I encourage you to explore our website, contact us with questions, or join our mailing list to keep up to date on our latest events, faculty and student accomplishments.

Elizabeth Drexler

Director, Peace and Justice Studies