Brandeis students organized and hosted the first-ever student peace summit Saturday in support of federal legislation to establish a Dept. of Peace in the U.S. cabinet. The statewide event, which was cosponsored by Positive Foundations and Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND), drew college and high school peace activists from Brandeis, Wellesley, Tufts, Carlisle High School, St. Joseph's College in Connecticut Regis College and Salem State College.

Patty Roeding, Education Director of the Peace Alliance Foundation, opened the summit with a lecture on the history of the peace movement.

Roeding gave a history of violence in the world and discussed governmental peace initiatives throughout history and said the movement for a U.S. Dept. of Peace is the "synthesis of an ageless longing for peace."

The legislation, currently being debated in the House and Senate, has 63 cosponsors, including five Mass. representatives, and calls for federal efforts to promote peace through education, arms control, greater support for human and economic rights and nonviolent conflict resolution domestically and abroad, according to an online summary of the bill.

"It's not a vision of utopia," Roeding said. "It's a proposal to take this idea and build it into our lives. It's about moving from being reactive to being proactive."

A panel of peace activists and professors spoke after Roeding's presentation.

Grove Harris, a member of the Cambridge Peace Commission, Prof. Gordon Fellman (SOC), and Dan Shapiro of the Harvard Law Negotiation Project discussed the future of a peace department.

"Part of what is frightening about peace studies is that it means imagining something that isn't," Fellman said. "We need peace education programs because people need to learn it."

The panelists addressed how a peace department could handle the current situation with Iranian possession of nuclear weapons.

Shapiro suggested bringing political officials from all sides together to a neutral territory for an unofficial brainstorming session.

The students broke into small groups to share their reactions to the presentations and participated in workshops on organizing and sustaining activism on campus led by members of STAND.

"I think it was a great model of activism and it was a great way for a lot of different groups and people to come together," Positive Foundations founder Sam Vaghar '08 said. "When you have a lot of people working together you can get a lot accomplished."

"I was so impressed with the student leadership at Brandeis, who has really taken the lead in the nation for our college initiative," Roeding said following the summit. "They're amazing young people who are skilled and wholeheartedly want to make a difference in the world."

Aaron Voldman '09, the National College Director of the Student Peace Alliance, said a Dept. of Peace would further peace culture in American society and abroad. "We have to be cognizant of the fact that the society that we're living in is a culture of violence and if we want to create a culture of peace, we can not only act against the culture of violence, we must stand for and organize in support of programs that truly create peace," he said.

Voldman said Brandeis' student leadership in establishing a Dept. of Peace follows the University's history of protesting and organizing against war, which began in the 1960s with protests against the Vietnam War.

"I'm really glad that Brandeis yet again is playing a large role in the movement for peace, but this time through purely pro-peace measure, rather than merely an anti-war measure," Voldman said.