The world seems to be sliding from one deep crisis into the next. But if we look beyond the media’s bleak portrayal of global affairs, we may just discover a more positive story.
This is what UQ Peace and Conflict Studies Senior Lecturer Dr Sebastian Kaempf believes – that Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences students and graduates are equipped with the knowledge, skills and abilities to create positive change.
But how can we break through all this negativity and confront the suffering to put the wheels of change in motion?
A struggling world needs agents of positive change
The war between Russia and Ukraine, COVID-19, growing racism, more than 68 million displaced people, climate change, poverty... At first glance, the state of the world seems quite bleak.
Every day, the media covers these global crises and, if we watch enough of the 24/7 news cycle, it’s easy to wonder if the world is becoming more and more unstable.
But is this really the case?
Sebastian explains how there's more to the story than what we see in the media.
“The media and our gut feeling suggest that right now the world is facing an emergency of unprecedented historical dimensions,” he says.
“Things seem to be spiralling out of control.”
“But once we step back and look more closely, what we actually find is a lot of heartening evidence of positive change.”
How to create positive change in your community – and the world
According to Sebastian, we have to see past the news to really look at the facts, and then use those to create positive change in the world. When we look beyond the larger narrative to get the real picture, the world might not be as out of control as it seems.
“If we look at the evidence today, compared to what’s played out historically, we can see that more and more people get lifted out of poverty, that refugees are being cared for much better, and that we have gotten better at resolving violent conflicts," Sebastian says.
Sebastian teaches strategies for looking beyond the media to conflict resolution in his classes, using real-world examples combined with historical theories.
“Peace and Conflict Studies looks at a whole range of themes,” he says.
It’s so much more than addressing the action of war. It’s about analysing and mitigating the motivations for war, shifting gears to achieve peace, and, importantly, exploring how we should handle the aftermath of war and what we can learn from it.
Sebastian explains that this Bachelor of Arts major covers several fascinating subject areas, including:
- What is it that makes human beings pick up a weapon and kill another human being, or nations invade other nations?
- Once conflict has started, how can we mitigate and manage it to ensure that the vulnerable are protected and there’s humanitarian aid?
- How can this conflict actually be resolved and negotiated?
- How can we rebuild societies once the war has ended?
By looking at all these aspects of peace and conflict critically, we move past the infamous doom scroll and into an area where we can work towards becoming true agents of positive change.
Who can create positive change?
There are many people in our society who are actively promoting and striving towards peace every day –humanitarian aid workers, peacekeepers, mediators, people in foreign ministries, and those in government.
What do all these people have in common? Many of them were Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences students once. Many of them walked through the sandstone halls of UQ, debated passionately with their peers and wrapped their heads around difficult readings.
These are now the passionate humanitarians who work to mediate crises and create positive change for a better future. One of them is even working on the frontline in the border regions between Ukraine and Poland, helping refugees right now.
“It’s the biggest, quickest refugee crisis we have seen in decades,” says Sebastian.
“A former UQ student in Peace and Conflict Studies is working for the Red Cross to provide aid to these Ukrainian refugees who’ve had their entire lives upended.”
Sebastian explains that he’s since had the former student Zoom into his lecture theatre, so his students can learn first-hand just how essential humanitarian aid is during times of conflict.
But aid work isn’t the only career option for Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences graduates looking to generate meaningful change in the world.
"Our graduates go into business and finance, journalism and foreign service; they take up government positions, work as policy advisors and join ministries,” says Sebastian.
“Some secure international careers with NGOs that deal with refugees or gender equality or development. They end up in all sorts of interesting places.”
What these professionals learn during their studies shapes their future careers. A surprise message Sebastian received highlights the particular importance of Peace and Conflict Studies in helping the next generation navigate the unknowns of the future.
“I got an email from an old student of mine who is now working for the United Nations at their headquarters in New York,” he says.
“In that email, the student told me how the world she is now facing is very similar to what was simulated in my classroom.”
“And that’s the point: if you're concerned about the world and want to do something about it, we arm you with the skills that allow you to make sense of the turmoil. To harness that knowledge to respond to the challenges we face, to make a difference, and to create a more peaceful and just tomorrow.”
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