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Peace: A prophecy in progress

Generations of peacebuilders have made the David O. McKay Center for Intercultural Understanding what it is today and are its hope for the future, says faculty members

Five people pose and smile at the camera is a mosaic mural behind them.
From left to right: David Whippy, Maclaine Day, Chad Ford, Amanda Ford and Michael Ligaliga posing in front of the David O. McKay mosaic.
Photo by Yui Leung

The world needs women and men who are committed to something higher than political, religious or cultural tribalism and are committed to the vision of a community with one heart and one mind, said Chad Ford. The polarization of the world is reaching a tipping point where bad things will happen, he said, unless it is reversed by people who know how to collaborate with others who are deeply unlike them.

Ford, a professor in the Faculty of Culture, Language & Performing Arts, said he and his former students, who are now his colleagues, have created BYU–Hawaii’s intercultural peacebuilding, or IPB program to teach rising generations how to build bridges with their enemies.

Why it matters

Peacebuilding as an area of study matters for two reasons, said Ford. One is no matter what profession a person goes into, conflict will be part of their professional life, he said. “There was a Stanford Business Review article that asked CEOs what skills they wished they had or learned, and conflict resolution was the overwhelming theme,” Ford cited.

The IPB curriculum’s focus is on keeping the program very flexible, said Maclaine Day, an adjunct faculty member in the Faculty of Culture, Language & Performing Arts. “The majority of our students are double majoring in something,” she said. It’s an opportunity for students to study their interests and peacebuilding because peacebuilders are needed in every profession, she added.

The second reason IPB matters is because conflict will always be part of one’s personal life, said Ford. “[Peacebuilding] becomes the most crucial skill as a parent, spouse and ward member,” he added. The most popular IPB class is interpersonal peacebuilding which covers conflict theory in relationships with parents, siblings, dating partners, spouses and children, Ford said.

Foundational & groundbreaking

A peacebuilding program with the combination of the tried and proven models of Western, Indigenous, Pacific and Asian perspectives and the lens of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ creates a unique space at BYUH, said Ford.

We drink from the wells we did not dig.
Michael Ligaliga

Michael Ligaliga and David Whippy, both assistant professors in the Faculty of Culture, Language & Performing Arts, “have brought to the table their own pioneering work connected to the indigenous cultures they grew up with,” said Ford.

Ligaliga shared, “A lot of my work is looking at peace and conflict theory and what aligns and doesn’t align in the Pacific.” When he was working for New Zealand’s Government Centre for Dispute Resolution, he said he did a lot of research on developing frameworks of conflict in the Pacific. There are a lot of taboos with conflict, Ligaliga said, but he has used the frameworks he created to address family violence, substance abuse and mental health. During the Winter 2024 Semester, he said he took some students to New Zealand to address school suspension rates.

One of the foundational philosophies of the IPB program Ligaliga brought was the concept of va, he said. Va is a Pacific notion that all things have a relational space, he explained. Ligaliga said understanding va includes being mindful and taking care of that relational space. “That’s a very Pacific framing,” he said.

Space that has been harmed needs to be healed, explained Ford. “We are not the only program that sees peacebuilding through a Christological lens,” said Ford, but BYUH is the only one thinking about it through the Restoration, he added. “To me, Jesus is about restoration,” said Ford, not just the Restoration of the gospel, but also our relationships to our Heavenly Parents and to each other.

Liberating the captive and mourning with those who mourn are the same things peacebuilders are trying to do, explained Ford. “Peacebuilders can’t heal individual sin the way Jesus can,” he said, “but we can address where so much of sin comes from.”

Ford said he believes sin comes from losing sight of the humanity and divinity of our brothers and sisters. When people no longer have what Paul calls “the eyes of the heart” in the New Testament, they feel enmity, which leads to hate and sin, explained Ford.

Defense against the dark arts

On Feb 12, 1955, President David O. McKay said in his dedication of BYUH that “from this school, I’ll tell you, will go men and women whose influence will be felt for good towards the establishment of peace internationally.”

Twenty-nine years later, Elder Neal A. Maxwell gave a speech focused on President McKay’s vision for peace at Eric B. Shumway’s inauguration as president of BYUH. “I was a junior sitting in the Cannon Activities Center hearing that speech, and it was the first time I had heard about that stuff,” said Ford. This led President Shumway to seek ways BYUH could more directly fulfill the vision, Ford explained.

A man poses beside a plaque
David Whippy beside a plaque explaining the David O. McKay mosaic which depicts McKay prophesying future generations of peacebuilders
Photo by Yui Leung

In 2005, Ford came back to BYUH as a teacher to create an academic program for peace. “It was a tough sell,” he said. “A lot of our colleagues were a bit skeptical,”he added. Toward the end of that year, Ford said, some students approached him and asked why there weren’t more peacebuilding classes. He told them to be patient with the process, but one day the same students came back with the fifth Harry Potter book, he said.

In the book, Ford explained, the school’s headmistress outlaws the class called, “Defense Against the Dark Arts” where Harry, the protagonist, and a group of students met secretly to learn anyway. Ford said the students asked if they could study peacebuilding without credit like the characters in the book. They were powerful advocates for what they were learning, he said. They talked to people and professors, Ford said, and slowly people began to warm up to the idea of an IPB program. The program eventually began with an introduction class in 2008, he said.

Terry Moeai, the Student Leadership & Service Senior manager, was in the first group of ‘Harry Potter’ students. Moeai said there was a lot of historical baggage he and his classmates brought to their meetings. For example, one of his fellow classmates said Hawaiians were better off because of the arrival of Captain Cook. “That was really difficult,” said Moeai, because as a Hawaiian he reminded his classmate it was a Western worldview of technology. The native Hawaiians were skilled people who sailed the Pacific without any kind of modern instruments, he said, but over half of their population was obliterated because of sickness. “When we talk about worldviews, everyone has a different perception of how they see the world,” Moeai said. What kept the group together was being Latter-day Saints, he said. “Our values were unitedly the same even though our worldviews were different,” he added.

A timeline graphic of BYUH's peacebuilding program
A timeline of BYUH's peacebuilding program
Photo by Elinor Cash

Conflict leads to progress and change, said Moeai. The dedication of the Aloha Center says the building will be a laboratory for theoretical frameworks to build peace internationally by engaging in difficult conversations, said Moeai. The conversations sound like, “I might not see the world through the lens you see it,” said Moeai, ”but I can understand why and how you behave that way.”

Moeai said he wanted to be an influence for peace that wasn’t just the absence of war but an attitude of love and acceptance for people who think and behave differently.

Not what they expected

Day said she came to BYUH in 2014 with no intention of studying peacebuilding. She said she attended an Arbinger Institute workshop, an early form of the peacebuilding program, for extra credit. “I hated it,” she said. “I didn’t like being told I was a big contender and the source of many of my conflicts.”

What did catch her attention was hearing that the head of the peacebuilding classes, Ford, was away on sabbatical in the Middle East, she said.

“My grandfather is Palestinian,” Day added. “I wanted to meet the teacher who was doing work in the Middle East to learn more about my ancestry and what’s going on over there. I was grasping for connections to that part of my life,” she said.

She signed up for Ford’s IPB introduction class, and then another and another IPB class. One day, her advisor said Day’s major was international cultural studies with a certificate in mediation and that it was time to graduate.

Ligaliga said, “I’m a deejay. I [came to school] just wanting to learn how to download music.” After going to a workshop like Day did, he said it helped him better understand the problems in his personal life. Ligaliga added he was jumping between many majors at that time, but switched to study the closest thing to peacebuilding that was offered and stayed on track.

Whippy was similarly lured into peacebuilding through a different route, he said. One semester he was three credits short and had an afternoon spot to fill, Whippy said. “I’m a big basketball fan. If you follow basketball, you follow ESPN. If you follow ESPN, you follow Chad Ford,” he explained, referencing Ford’s other job as a basketball analyst. He signed up for Ford’s class, and while there was no talk of basketball, Whippy said he fell in love with peacebuilding.

Drinking from the well

When Day was a student, she said the IPB program was mostly mainland women. “I laugh a bit because out in the field it is male dominated,” she said. In the past two years of teaching in the program, she said she’s had students from more than 25 countries and more of a balance between male and female. “It’s not a major meant just for women, and that is one of the stereotypes we’ve worked hard to overcome,” she said. “It’s encouraging to see our numbers reflecting that,” she added.

The future of the program aligns with the school’s target area of Pacific and Asia, said Ford. They have a good start in the Pacific, with Whippy and Ligaliga being fruits of that, he said, and there is a growing number of students in the program from the Philippines, Korea, Japan and Taiwan. Ford said he expects his students will also be pioneers in their countries. “My hope is that one or two of them will come back to our campus and pave the way for our students from Asia,” he said.

Ligaliga, the first graduate intern to come back to campus and teach after getting a master’s degree, will be taking Ford’s place as head of the program after the Spring 2024 Semester, Ford explained. “I was influential in starting the program, and my fingerprints are all over it,” he said. “But there is a point when the person who starts [a project] needs to get out of the way and let the next generation innovate and create.”

That has been really hard for him, he said, but “part of loving something is being able to open your hand and let it grow beyond you.”

Part of loving something is being able to open your hand and let it grow beyond you.
Chad Ford

There is a phrase often used in the IPB program that says, “We drink from wells we did not dig,” said Ligaliga. He explained he cannot plan the future of the program without acknowledging the past and everything Ford has done to build the program.

Bringing it home

When Whippy was a student field director, he got to travel to Israel, he said, where Ford had him facilitate an Arbinger workshop with Israeli and Palestinian children.

“I was sweating,” said Whippy, because he was so nervous. The experience “stamped in me the belief this could be taught around the world,” he said. “If I can teach peace in a space with a history of conflict like Israel, it should be easier if I take it to the Pacific and to my family.”

Whippy said his dissertation was on creating a peace education model specific to his home country of Fiji. His country’s educational system is a compulsory standardized curriculum from first to 10th grade, he explained, so he wanted to know where peace can fit in, either as its own discipline or connected to a pre-existing one. His results from surveying teachers was huge positive support, he said that peace education needs to be its own subject. Teachers also wanted it to be taught in teacher training so they could create classroom atmospheres conducive to peace, he said.

Fiji has a history of ethnic conflict, Whippy explained, so the main part of the new peace curriculum would be learning about other ethnicities’ languages, cultural practices and history.

Other parts would include environmental and spiritual learning as well as conflict resolution skills contextualized from Western-centric syllabi, he said.

A man in a blue suit and red tie smiles at the camera
Terry Moeai
Photo by Zane Saenz

Talking about how he brought peacebuilding into his home made Moeai emotional. “Growing up as a Polynesian there is only one way, and it’s top-down,” he explained, “As a child in the Pacific, your life belongs to your family, and if expectations aren’t met, it usually results in some very extreme behavior towards you.”

He was going to college and raising his children at the same time, he said, and his education helped him and his wife be more aware of their children’s needs and give them more freedom to learn and experience life. •