Path to Brandeis rooted amid Ireland's `killing fields' for new coexistence master's program directorReleased on September 09, 2003
Contact: Dennis Nealon email@example.com
Maybe it was the dead bodies, the innocent bystanders and British soldiers falling within a few miles of the home she shared with her husband and two children in Ardboe in Co Tyrone, Ireland. Or all the wakes she attended for murdered Republican Catholics and Unionist Protestants. And the battle helicopters landing nightly in her field.
But something combined in all those deeply traumatic events pulled Mari Fitzduff out of Ireland's "killing fields" of Ardboe in Co Tyrone and led her to become one of the world's most recognized leaders in conflict resolution.
Fitzduff is newly arrived at Brandeis where she is preparing to launch a master's program in conflict resolution and coexistence under the auspices of the University's International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life. What separates the program from others is its emphasis on proactive conflict resolution. Like others, says Fitzduff, the Brandeis program will focus on managing conflict, but it also will closely examine what might be done to keep trouble from evolving in the first place.
In a phone conversation and via e-mail from Ireland, Fitzduff talked about her career, the background that influenced it, and her goals - ambitious ones, at that - for the coexistence master's program, due to officially begin on campus in September 2004 with Fitzduff as its director and some 15-20 students from around the world. She describes the program as a blend of theory and practice, with the main focus on successful policymaking and practice in coexistence and intercommunal conflict prevention, management and resolution.
"I became involved [in resolution] in the early `80s, as the [Ardboe in Co Tyrone] area was like a war zone - continually patrolled by the IRA, and by British soldiers . . . frequent sounds of explosions, as the IRA blew up buses and tried to blow up the British army," she recalled. "There were 30 people, Republican/Catholic, Unionist/Protestant, and British soldiers, who were all killed within a few square miles of our home."
"I saw the equal suffering on both sides, both Protestant and Catholic, and their families. My career began from a need to make a safer world for my children, and out of anger at the wanton deaths occurring around us."
Fitzduff became the first person to teach courses in conflict resolution at both universities in Northern Ireland. Then the government asked her to help it discern what it might use besides force to contain the paramilitaries and end the conflict. She co-wrote a report that she says eventually helped bring about the 1998 "Good Friday Agreement" for peace in Ireland. In 1990, Fitzduff was appointed CEO of the main agency responsible for conflict resolution in Ireland. She is the director of UNU (United Nations University)/INCORE, an international conflict research center and joint program of the University of Ulster and UNU. She is also a professor of conflict studies at the University of Ulster and a former chief executive of the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council, and has done conflict resolution work in the Basque Country, Sri Lanka, the Middle East, Indonesia, Russia, and the CIS states.
Her goals for the Brandeis master's program are lofty, but, according to some who know her, not unobtainable for someone with her credentials and motivation. The Dublin-born Fitzduff, author of a number of books including most recently Beyond Violence: Conflict Resolution Process in Northern Ireland (United Nations University Press 2002), which just received an American Libraries Notable Publications Award, says she expects that by the end of this decade the Brandeis program will ensure that a coexistence manager will be working in each of the 200-300 major international organizations working on conflict resolution. The message is the same in every conflict area of the Globe, according to Fitzduff: the big guns approach is not going to work. "Most of the conflicts today come from the total mismanagement of groups and their needs," she says.
Daniel Terris, director of the Ethics Center at Brandeis, said Fitzduff's deep grassroots experience and broad scholarly perspective together constitute the tools needed to make her goals a reality. "Her leadership brings instant credibility and visibility to the new program at Brandeis," he added.
Students in the master's program will be trained, says Fitzduff, "that politics is often an abuser of differences," that consideration must be given to disparate groups themselves and their identities, and that social and economic problems frequently lie at the root of conflicts. The program proposal will be brought before the faculty for approval later this fall.
According to Fitzduff, the master's program will focus on teaching and researching the theoretical and practical approaches that are necessary to ensure that differing groups and societies can live more equitably and respectfully together at local, national and global levels. She said the course will draw its knowledge resources from a variety of disciplines such as social psychology, international politics, sociology, law, anthropology, and cultural studies.
According to Fitzduff, there are eight other master's programs in the United States that address issues that are similar to many of those that will be addressed in the Brandeis program. But the others concentrate on conflict as "an abnormal need to be addressed when violence arises." More depth is needed, she says, "in order to avoid the continuance of the horrors of conflict we see today."
"This program will be based on an acceptance of the developing need for every society, and all institutions, to build in awareness and mechanisms to ensure the coexistence health of our communities, our nations, and our world."