Peace through Artistic Expression: Peace and Conflict Studies Bridges Academia and Art

Monday, May 7, 2018

Last week, the University of Waterloo hosted its 10th annual Teaching and Learning Conference. Each year, the conference brings together instructors from a variety of faculties and departments to share research and teaching strategies through interactive workshops and panel discussions. A number of educators from Conrad Grebel University College were present this year and a diverse team of faculty, staff and students from Grebel led a panel discussion highlighting the value of artistic approaches to peace education.

The panel consisted of Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS) faculty Jennifer Ball, PACS adjunct instructor and Kindred Credit Union Centre for Peace Advancement (CPA) Coordinator Michelle Jackett, PACS undergraduate students Kai Butterfield and Charity Nonkes, and Rachel Reist, PACS Undergraduate Academic and Administrative Officer & Internship Coordinator, who moderated the discussion. Together, the panelists brought to the discussion over 10 years of experience in using arts-based assignments.

Over the past decade, instructors in the PACS department have offered arts-based assignments to motivate students toward deeper critical reflection and original thought. In a spirit of service to the broader campus, the department felt eager to share insights on this distinct form of teaching and learning with colleagues across the University of Waterloo.

Michelle Jackett has been integrating arts-based assignments into her teaching with the PACS department for the past five years, and currently coordinates the Grebel Gallery program in the Centre for Peace Advancement.

Kai's tryptic“The transformative educational experiences I’ve been a part of through arts-based assignments, both as a student and as an instructor, have made me an advocate for this method of expressing knowledge,” says Michelle. “This is what inspired the development of the current Grebel Gallery exhibit, Beyond Essays: Approaching Peace Education Differently.” The exhibit speaks to the unique value of artistic expression in peace education and for peacebuilding more broadly, and was developed in partnership with PACS for their 40th anniversary year.

Kai and Chief LarkinKai Butterfield, whose work is on display in the Grebel Gallery, chose the arts-based option in Michelle’s class on Restorative Justice in Fall of 2017. Kai created a photography tryptic that highlights anti-Black biases in the Canadian criminal justice system, and has been able to use this piece in her advocacy work. Her piece is a shining example of how art can be used to demonstrate (and evaluate) transformative learning and critical thought. Butterfield reflects on the impact of using art to explore the issue highlighted in her piece, expressing,

“The arts-based assignment allowed me to share my critique with a broader audience through both social media and the Grebel Gallery exhibit through a medium that is often more accessible and compelling than an academic paper.”

As universities continue to grow larger and more diverse, instructors must learn to engage and evaluate different learning styles and forms of intelligence. This is supported by extensive research, including American developmental psychologist and Harvard professor Howard Gardner’s work on Multiple Intelligence Theory.