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A Q&A with Alpaslan Özerdem

By Mariam Aburdeineh, BA ’13 on November 8, 2019

Alpaslan Özerdem, the new dean of George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (S-CAR), studied civil engineering before becoming a peace and conflict studies scholar.

Dean Alpaslan Özerdem, Dean, School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. Photo by: Ron Aira/Creative Services/George Mason University

Özerdem, who focused his PhD studies on how physical reconstruction can be a peacebuilding tool, sees the progression as natural.

“At the engineering school, we were taught how to build bridges, and as a peace and conflict studies scholar, I believe that I now build bridges between communities affected by armed conflict,” Özerdem says. “There are many great things about peace and conflict studies, one of which is its openness to all disciplines.”

Mainstreaming this openness, Özerdem says, is something he would like to see during his time at Mason, so that all students could be taught basic conflict resolution skills before graduating.

“We need to recognize that everyday peacebuilding is something we practice all the time,” he says.

Özerdem came to Mason from Coventry University in the United Kingdom, where he served as Professor of Peacebuilding, Associate Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research, and co-founder and co-director of the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations—one of the world’s largest peace and conflict studies research centers. He brings with him nearly 25 years of research, advising, and teaching experience in peace and conflict studies, and significant experience in developing transnational research partnerships.

Özerdem spoke from his office in Vernon Smith Hall on the Arlington Campus.

What drew you to Mason?

Mason prioritizes the principles of accessibility and inclusivity when it comes to serving its students, and as a peace studies scholar, those values really matter for me. I know what Mason means to its students, especially first-generation students, because I was one of those students and know what a university education could allow you to achieve in your life. In other words, enabling young people to build a prosperous and meaningful life for themselves is how I see as the main purpose of universities, and this is exactly what Mason strives to achieve. In fact, it clearly makes a great job with it.

Dean Alpaslan Özerdem, School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. Photo by Ron Aira

What is your vision for S-CAR?

S-CAR is a great place to study conflict analysis and resolution. It has a great faculty with global standing, and it is well placed to have an impact through its strong alumni, wonderful Point of View retreat and amazing location near Washington, D.C. However, S-CAR also needs to re-evaluate its place in peace and conflict studies, as there has recently been an increasing level of competition in the United States and beyond.

My vision for S-CAR is to become “The Place” for peace and conflict studies globally, which it deserves so much because of its history of nearly 40 years of existence with many achievements. S-CAR, with its students, faculty, sponsors, alumni and wider community of conflict resolution practitioners, is also a great community. We want to build a new vision and priorities to enable our school to set the agenda for the future of peace and conflict studies, and to have a great impact in the lives of many vulnerable conflict-affected communities across the world.

Where do you think the field of peace and conflict studies is going, and what role do you think S-CAR will play?

The field of peace and conflict studies will need to grapple with a number of challenges. First, it needs to remain relevant to changing security, development and peace dynamics globally. With the increasing importance of info-tech and bio-tech developments in our day-to-day lives, peace and conflict studies will be facing newer and more challenging questions and dilemmas. Hence, undertaking cutting-edge research and being able to think outside the box will be an important advantage to flourish in difficult times ahead.

Second, peace and conflict studies should continue to deepen its partnerships with actors from the practice. Working with conflict-affected communities rather than for them would be a critical litmus test for achieving a center of excellent status.

Third, students of peace and conflict studies might be coming from different backgrounds and academic disciplines, but most of them would like to work in the field as practitioners, whether in the United States or abroad. Therefore, it is very important to make sure our programs prepare them well for such challenging environments. In other words, the focus of peace and conflict studies should not just be about imparting knowledge, but also building skill sets to navigate in the realm of humanitarianism, conflict resolution and peacebuilding.

What would you like students to gain from your tenure as dean, especially as they are setting out on their own careers as peace and conflict scholars and practitioners?

I will be establishing different means of engagement with our students so that I get to know what’s happening with their degree programs and their experience as Mason students. Considering that in my previous life I lived in the United Kingdom, I think a “Tea with Dean” to meet with each degree cohort at least once a semester would be a good starting point. For large cohorts, this might mean so many fruit scones to bake, but I would like to establish a real sense of community for all of us here at S-CAR. From my side, our students will get my full commitment, and I hope that, as an S-CAR family, we will be able to provide them with an environment where they can flourish and excel as peace and conflict scholars and practitioners.

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