My Experiences Studying Peace, Conflict, and Justice

A photo of a group of students around a boardroom table.
A photo taken at a discussion delivered this year by Nekoo Collett, a Trudeau Centre Fellow in Peace, Conflict and Justice.

It’s almost spring, or as I like to call it, “applying to things” season. Applying to summer jobs, applying for scholarships, applying for summer programs, and applying to majors! Last week, in light of upcoming Program of Study (POS) deadlines, I discussed my experiences as an International Relations (IR) major. This week, I’ll be talking my second major- Peace, Conflict, and Justice (PCJ)!

Around this time last February, I was one of many students wondering “What is the difference between PCJ and IR?” The fields of study are similar in that both provide in-depth knowledge of human rights, humanitarian intervention, and the history of events in the international sphere. The main difference is that PCJ addresses questions like the meaning of what peace, conflict, and justice are. The discipline is closely tied to ideas about the roots of conflict, approaches to conflict resolution, and social psychology. You’ll hear a lot about how theories apply to real-world conflicts (if you don’t know what game theory is yet, you will soon!). Meanwhile, IR analyzes the development of the international political order, like how and why we engage in diplomacy the way we do today, often using states as the basic unit of analysis. Unlike PCJ, it also has an economics component.

In the past year, I’ve gotten a few snide remarks asking “Why did you choose to major in two things that are basically the same?” My response is 1. I didn’t ask for your opinion!, 2. They aren’t the same!, and 3. Choosing two interrelated fields of study has many benefits! I love seeing the parallels between discussions in my courses. The programs focus on different international events through different lenses. I enjoy feeling like I’m gaining a more in-depth perspective through the interconnected themes of some of my courses, which may address the same world issue but in a different way. I’m not alone in enjoying the experience of two very complementary programs of study. I’ve seen my peers in the PCJ program also choose to combine PCJ and IR, or another social sciences program such as Political Science or Ethics, Society, and Law (ESL). But if you do wish to explore outside of the social sciences, one of the best parts of PCJ is that it is an interdisciplinary field that draws in students from all kinds of academic backgrounds. Regardless of what class I’m in, from economics to social psychology, I feel principles discussed in PCJ mirrored!

If you’re also someone who’s passionate about human rights and conflict resolution, don’t let the application, which involves an essay, resumé, and interview, intimidate you! Of course, “don’t worry” is easier said than done. Last year, I had a nightmare about being asked “You are the leader of <insert country I’ve never heard of> during an insurgency in 2010. What do you do?” Luckily, the interview I stressed over for months was short and focused on my past experiences, rather than surprise theoretical scenarios. I also worried that the application’s resumé requirement meant that admission was dependent on previous PCJ-related experience. Luckily, while past experience demonstrating your interest in politics will help you, no program expects everyone to have founded their own NGO by the end of freshman year. I didn’t have any extensive political experience, but was accepted regardless, so don’t be discouraged!

If you’re interested in learning more about the experiences of students in the PCJ program, be sure to visit the PCJ blog and learn more from the Peace, Conflict, and Justice Society!

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