Colgate Syllabus: Troublemakers or Peacemakers?

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PCON 241 Troublemakers or Peacemakers?

Anna Fett, Visiting Assistant Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies

M, W 1:20–2:35 p.m.


On March 10, 2020, the U.S. “Youth, Peace, & Security” (YPS) Act was introduced into the House of Representatives with broad support from peacebuilding organizations. Building off of the international United Nations YPS Agenda, this bill is intended “to support the inclusive and meaningful participation of youth in peace building and conflict prevention, management, and resolution.”

But, is all of this attention on “youth” actually warranted? More importantly, is this attention good for young people both in the United States and globally? While monitoring public reactions to this legislation as they occur in real-time right now, this course will also examine the historical context of the shifting politics of recognition related to youthhood/childhood over the course of the Cold War and its aftermath.

Through an investigation of age-based, racialized, gendered, imperial, and other dynamics, students will explore which populations have been categorized as (vulnerable) “children” or (dangerous) “youth” in U.S. foreign policy and larger international UN security and peacebuilding agendas.

By the end of the semester, students will be able to:

  • Comprehend key terminology, concepts, and theories associated with the field of Peace and Conflict Studies
  • Analyze historical and contemporary patterns of attempts to link ‘youth’ to governmental policies and programs of security and/or peacebuilding as well as attempts by young people to resist and challenge these apparatuses
  • Distinguish between primary and secondary source materials and how to evaluate them
  • Think critically in analyzing, evaluating, and making well-developed, carefully considered arguments of the course material
  • Develop critical awareness of your own positionality within this field of study and action

Each student will research, write about, and present on one contemporary activist group, nongovernmental organization, or social (protest) movement that identifies itself by its “youth” leadership and participants. Through this research, students will analyze the group's online presence, published materials, media coverage, and interviews with leaders to evaluate how the group is perceived by the public.

The goal of this assignment is to encourage critical thinking about the potential advantages and drawbacks of using the "youth" identity label to mobilize for social or political change, and to challenge the assumption that organizing as youth is automatically productive.

The Professor Says

This course is inspired by my ongoing research, and, just as importantly, this course continues to inspire and redirect my ongoing research as I work alongside students to make sense of the proposed bipartisan YPS Act (reintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in August of 2021).

Often, advocates of this legislation declare that this is the first time the U.S. government has seriously considered a governmentwide, interagency strategy for targeting and working with youth. However, this course unravels a much longer, more complicated history of U.S. governmental attempts to identify, target, and influence a category of persons called “youth” for the sake of promoting U.S. national security interests both at home and abroad since the Second World War.

Together, my students and I ask: is this legislation, and others like it, meant to ensure security for youth or security from youth? And, with what consequences for actual young people globally?