Jimmy Carter, our nation’s most productive ex-president, has left his mark on our sainted parish.
In March 2020, George Mason University’s Arlington campus renamed its 40-year-old School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution to honor Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter.
One pandemic year later, the Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution’s programs, long inspired by the citizen peace diplomacy championed by the Atlanta-based Carter Center, are being run by a world citizen.
Dean Alpaslan Ozerdem, Turkish-born and British-educated, in an interview outdoors on the school’s Virginia Square plaza, told me how fortunate he feels to have landed at Mason.
The peace school is the nation’s oldest, among the best known and largest of its kind (300-400 undergrad and postgraduate students, more than 2,000 alumni), he noted. Many of its graduates end up at other academic peace study programs (Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding in Harrisonburg, Virginia, for example, is directed by Mason school alumna Jayne Docherty).
Though the Carter Center “has no organic connection” to Mason’s programs, the Carters are “generous in lending their names” to enhance the Arlington school.
The peace models pursued by its faculty “vary according to each country’s history and central reality,” said Ozerdem, who spent 20 years as an academic. “But the issue is whether it is working for all, with access to justice for all groups regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, and class.”
Recently, the George Floyd murder trial “produced much anxiety” among his colleagues, who were uncertain the outcome would seem fair.
The Mason faculty are active in the Arlington community. Since last July, the school has partnered with volunteers in the Restorative Arlington initiative to explore alternative crime reduction strategies in the legal system, schools and the community. It was coordinated by county manager Mark Schwartz and Mason professor Susan Hirsch.
In the fall of 2017, Mason professor Juliette Shedd helped Arlington Public Schools navigate controversy over removing Robert E. Lee’s name from what is now Washington-Liberty High School. Its role was “to gather information and identify possible criteria for the review of the existing Naming Criteria Policy,” Shedd told me.
That included a survey of 2,700 high school students, faculty and community members, and small focus groups with about “100 students involved amongst the three high schools.”
The American university system, Ozerdem said, though similar to Britain’s in assumptions, is “more rigorous.” U.S. doctorates require five or six years of research rather than three to four, and exams must be passed before one writes a dissertation.
The dean is proud that the multidisciplinary school within Mason, like the university, attracts as many as 30 percent of its students from diverse backgrounds. It has placed graduates at the U.S. Institute for Peace (just across the river on Constitution Avenue, which makes for easy guest speakers). More than 200 alums are working for the U.S. Foreign Service, with dozens of others at the United Nations and non-governmental organizations.
Peacemaking studies, negotiations and efforts at post-conflict rebuilding do not, Ozerdem assured me, prevent his graduates from working with the military. “On the contrary, some have a military background. And though we might have a different take on military-civilian relations, we need to know how to work with different groups.”
To control flooding, Arlington County announced it is purchasing a home in my neighborhood that has suffered historic water damage.
The abandoned 1954 white rambler at 6415 24th St. N., assessed at $683,800, is among four locations the county flagged after the July 8, 2019 flood. It will be demolished for drainage improvements.
My friend Dave lived there in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. “After many small floods (2-4 inches in the basement) it flooded again on July 18, 1965, while my brothers and I were inside,” he recalled. “Eight feet of water filled the house within 20 minutes as the storm sewer backed up and the metal sewer tops blew off and the water quickly filled 24th St. Firetrucks had to pump the water out.”