SU Hosts peace conference after years of hard work

The logo for the SPA.  Courtesy of Google Images.

The logo for the SPA. Courtesy of Google Images.

If you are sick of folks north of Dallas not knowing where Southwestern University is, fret no more: We’re going national. This weekend, Feb. 26-28, Southwestern University is hosting the 2010 National Student Peace Alliance, welcoming approximately 500 students from all over the United States to campus.

“Student Peace Alliance is a national organization that works to mobilize youth with the common cause of making peace building a priority in our federal government,” said senior and President of Student Peace Alliance (SPA), Martin Fergus. “The conference will focus primarily on developing strategies for peace and conflict resolution in the government at state, local and federal levels. For instance, we’re going to be examining issues surrounding legislative action. This conference will educate students on exactly how peace and conflict resolution works at the national level.”

The process of hosting this conference at Southwestern University has been a long one, as well as a sad one. “Rob Atkinson, who passed away a year ago, is the former president of the Student Peace Alliance,” Fergus said. “SPA was established in 2005. He went to the 2006 conference at Brandeis University, and that was the first conference for the Student Peace Alliance. He was so inspired by what he saw at the conference that he wanted the conference to be here at Southwestern University.” Atkinson and Fergus applied and were granted permission to hold the conference by the SPA, but weren’t able to get permission from the administration at Southwestern University. “The administration wasn’t ready because they didn’t feel like they had the right procedures and documentation necessary in order to handle that amount of people. The liability issues were also big ones,” said Fergus.

The next year, Atkinson and Fergus decided to give it another try. “We went to President Schrum’s office with an number of SEAK and SPA members,” explained Fergus. “We filled his room with 20 students and asked him point blank ‘Can we have this conference?’ He told us he would set up a meeting with all the deans.”

Atkinson and Fergus were permitted to present their case at the meeting. “Rob gave this beautiful speech as to why it would be important to have a conference here,” Fergus continued. “He said we’d be promoting Texas as not just some backwoods place, and that there can be a peace movement in Texas. He said that Southwestern would be elevated to a national level to have a conference like this here.”

The response? “And so they said ‘no’ to us again!” laughed Fergus.

Six months later, tragedy struck, and turned the entire thing around: Rob Atkinson was struck by a vehicle on Highway 29 and died.

Some members of SPA walking for peace in Austin.

Some members of SPA walking for peace in Austin.

“About 48 hours after [the accident], Jerry Brody, the Dean of Students, approached me and said that he had talked to President Schrum, and they had talked about having the conference here to fulfill Rob’s dream.” Nearly three years after the idea’s conception, the National Peace Conference is finally going to be held at Southwestern University.

The lineup of speakers for the conference is astoundingly impressive. “On Friday, [the conference] will be focused primarily on international issues. Dr. Eric Selbin will be speaking on Latin America.

On Saturday, the focus will be domestic,” said Fergus. “We have a couple of domestic abuse prevention programs coming. For instance, Hope Alliance out in Round Rock will be here. An incarceration prevention program that works with at-risk youth, called Southwest Key Program, will be in attendance.”

Other speakers include Harriet Fulbright of the Fulbright Association, one of the filmers of The Invisible Children, the Sheriff of Los Angeles Police Department, and a Colonel from West Point.

“The bottom line is that we want students to know that peace isn’t just this Utopian ideal that exists somewhere in books,” Fergus said of the conference. “I think that being able to have this conference at Southwestern University is a fulfillment of Rob’s dream, and an articulation of the vision that Rob had for the peace movement. Every one on this campus, especially for those in Student Peace Alliance, are very proud of that fact.”

Student Peace Alliance meets every Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. in the Mood-Bridwell Atrium. For further information on SPA, please contact Martin Fergus.

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