Annual Hesburgh Lecture Examines the Challenges of Peacebuilding

News Story: October 18, 2017
George A. Lopez lecture

While global violence has pervaded the nation’s consciousness for nearly 20 years, violence closer to home has become up-close and personal for Americans, according to George A. Lopez, this year’s Hesburgh lecturer at Sacred Heart University.

Recently, a standing-room-only crowd of students, faculty and community members filled the Forum at the Frank and Marisa Martire Business & Communications Center for the annual Hesburgh Alumni Lecture. The Department of Catholic Studies co-presented Lopez’s talk, “The Challenges of Peacebuilding in a World of Violence,” with the Human Journey Colloquia Series and the Notre Dame Club of Fairfield County (NDCFC). Gary L. Rose, professor and chair of SHU’s Department of Government, Politics and Global Studies, was the moderator and introduced Lopez. Jeff Nichols, of the NDCFC, also offered a few brief words.

Lopez is the Hesburgh Professor Emeritus of Peace Studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame. He is also one of the world’s ranking experts on economic sanctions, peacebuilding, the United Nations and various peace-related issues. Since the early 1990s, Lopez has advised various international agencies and governments about sanctions issues, ranging from limiting their humanitarian impact to the design of targeted financial penalties. His talk aimed to examine how we can move from being paralyzed by world violence to a state of understanding and action.

Speaking to the mostly student-aged audience, Lopez noted that today’s young people “have known nothing other than consciousness in a time of global conflict” and that this generation is “caught in this with little discussion about the good things happening across the globe.” He asked, “How can we reduce violence or approach it in a way that brings healing?”

Certainly, there is violence all around us. Examples called out by the audience included the recent mass murder in Las Vegas, systemic violence against certain communities, human trafficking and ethnic, religious and geographic conflict (what Lopez called “the dynamic of the other”).

“We’re in a world of Sneetches (Dr. Seuss’ storybook characters who practiced exclusion), wherein the nature of violence has changed from big wars” to community level acts, Lopez said. There is a growing, global list of communities in violent conflict and it’s much more traumatizing, which creates bigger challenges, he said. “As such, the nature of peace must have to change.”

Lopez put forth three approaches to a different kind of peacebuilding: 1) Peacebuilders must think, plan and act more strategically; 2) conflict resolution must give way to conflict transformation; and 3) peacebuilding demands links between community insiders and outsiders working in our inter-connected nation and world.

He explained that strategic peacebuilding requires a process he identified as SAT: Structural changes, such as new institutions, policies and big patterns of communal life that are transformational; Attitudinal changes, like influencing leaders, relational and identity-based groups, along with identifying educational and religious areas for engagement and change; and Transactional changes, maximizing the insider-outsider links, to eliminate borders. “We need to aim for conflict transformation—building dialogue and relationships among unequal parties as a long-term process,” Lopez said.

Specific peacebuilding that must come about, offered Lopez, includes intercommunal and interfaith dialogues, economic rebuilding and opportunity creation, accountability for violence and crimes, rule of law promotion, human rights implementation, managing post-conflict trauma, increased educational opportunity and community conflict handling, policing and transformation.

All these goals translate to a need for people to carry out the mission. “It’s no longer about the elites, but people in the community. There’s a piece of peacebuilding for everyone, either avocational or vocational,” Lopez said. Specifically, he explained, there’s a need for religious peacebuilders (clerics, theologians); educators to rebuild school systems and curriculums; health-care professionals of all types; legal professionals (lawyers, judges); community policing and police as peace officers; economic planners, investors and entrepreneurs; social workers and child psychologists to assist with trauma recovery; and arts people (music, theater and other creative arts).

In concluding his talk, Lopez asked the audience to consider, “Where do YOU fit in? What inspiring, connecting and inventing can you do? How can you be transformational? How can you become a ‘without borders’ person?”

George Lopez 10/11/17