During the 2019-20 academic year, as the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding commemorates its 25th anniversary, a series of guest authors will share reflections about CJP’s personal impact. We want to hear your thoughts, too! Thousands of people have intersected with CJP over the years, and each of you has contributed to the work of making the world a more just and more peaceful. Join us for our anniversary celebration June 5-7, 2020. Visit the anniversary website for more details.
Shyamika Jayasundara-Smits MA ’04 is assistant professor in conflict and peace studies at the International Institute for Social Studies at Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
Humanity and humility are two words that best describe CJP’s 25 years of existence, something which CJP can definitely and proudly celebrate. As I look around the world we live in today – a world increasingly filling with violence, injustices, hatred and egos – I cannot think of a better time than now to celebrate CJP’s 25th anniversary, which speaks of these two core attributes in volumes, and what sets CJP apart from most academic establishments in the field.
As I stand right now, in this moment, while looking back to the past and looking into the future (Yes, I admit to have swallowed John Paul Lederach’s double integrated framework for a good reason), I can see and feel the ways in which CJP has impacted me, intellectually and otherwise. Although I have studied peace and conflict on four continents, I must admit that the intellectual tour de force I had at CJP continues to be my main source of inspiration as an academic. I often wonder how what we learned close to two decades ago in an almost unheard of, tiny place called CJP, located in a remote part in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, unlocked the doors to the “state of the art” in conflict and peace studies. Sometimes, I genuinely wonder how I manage still to find answers to most of my compelling questions and that of my students from the CJP books. To me, it seems that somewhere, something has gone incredibly right for me to have landed at CJP.
It is not only the content of the courses that I still find most relevant across time and space, but also the way we engaged in the classrooms and the approach used to deliver the content of our courses. CJP’s approach touched me the most. Each one of us was respected and valued for who we are/were, so as for our life experiences. I find it extraordinary how our life experiences became a part of the curriculum and served as a point of bridging theory and life. Every day, as I walk into my own classrooms, this is something I am still trying to master and live up to as an educator.
The dedication and lifelong mentoring I continue to receive from the CJP faculty, even after more than a decade since my graduation, is humbling. Knowing that I can rely on CJP’s former and current scholars for help with specific topics – Barry Hart on identity, Lisa Schirch on peacebuilding, Jayne Docherty for worldview, Hizkias Assefa on reconciliation, John Paul Lederach for moral imagination, Howard Zehr for restorative justice, Carolyn Yoder for trauma – not only gives me a sense of relief and confidence as a scholar in this field but also a sense of connectedness to a truly caring and humble intellectual community across the Atlantic.
Nowadays, as I notice the increasing number of students wanting to take the conflict and peace courses at my current university and the increasing number of graduate research papers written on the subject, with citations to the works of Schirch, Zehr, Assefa, Docherty and Lederach, among others, I realise how we as a community are continuing to grow, reaching out to the world and to the new generations.
As the center continues to evolve and spread its intellectual and spiritual inspiration across continents, my dream for CJP in the next 25 years is that it continues to undertake the pioneering work and deliver the next phase of the state of the art in the peacebuilding field.
Shyamika Jayasundara-Smits is assistant professor in conflict and peace studies at the International Institute for Social Studies at Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands. She earned her master’s degree from CJP, a graduate certificate in peace research from Oslo University in Norway, and a PhD in development studies from the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands. She is a former Fulbright fellow.