University of Notre Dame
Kroc Institutde for International Peace Studies

Youth are key to creating sustainable peace, a just peace that is locally self-renewing, because they have roles, needs, and ideas that shape communities and cultures and they are uniquely-positioned change agents. As liminal actors connected to childhood and adulthood, and bridging between generations while active in various networked social spheres (school, work, leisure, etc.), they have important embodied knowledge and influence. Affected by violent conflicts and contributing to the processes used to end them, young people are necessary for truly inclusive negotiations, reconciliation processes, and other social policies.[1]

Youth are also the demographic of resistance. Young people are mobilizing against racism, economic insecurity, environmental destruction, demagoguery, and more. They are staging acts of civil disobedience, occupying public space, creating online content and campaigns, organizing meetings, lobbying politicians, and equally importantly, creating everyday spaces and discourses of resistance in their schools, refugee camps, detention centers, and other arenas.[2]

Peacebuilding as a field will struggle to remain relevant in an era of resistance unless its pool of credentialed voices expands and diversifies dramatically. The global Youth, Peace and Security (YPS) movement involves young activists working to ensure the inclusion and protection of youth in peace processes. They have already helped produce a range of high-level commitments and programming priorities and are helping to shift norms around young people’s political capabilities and rights.[3] To complement the efforts of YPS activists, a new generation of academic voices is needed to generate public scholarship that crosses boundaries in academia and between scholarship and policy/practice. Critical to that is the inclusion of young women and economically marginalized and BIPOC youth, who are among those most affected by the absence of peace. Yet these groups remain underrepresented in higher education.

BIPOC youth in the US experience direct, structural, and cultural violence first-hand. They are frequently labeled as dangerous “others” and viewed as either the problem or pitiable victim. Headlines such as “More Children in Chicago Have Been Shot Than Died of Covid”[4] illustrate both the violence young people experience and how their vulnerabilities are used to make other political points.[5] Decision makers in Chicago concerned with gun violence are not routinely facing the barrel of the gun, but it is Black and Latinx youth in the city who confront the gun’s barrel and hold the gun’s grip in conflict. Experiencing what most policymakers and scholars of peace do not—everyday violence—they are uniquely positioned to offer policy recommendations. Young people directly affected by gun violence need opportunities to connect their unique struggles to peacebuilding practices and prescriptions.

As sustainable peacebuilding becomes a global priority, another primary issue is climate change. Young people are some of the most affected victims of the climate crisis as they inherit the compounding consequences of environmental degradation, which is another form of violence against young people.[6] They have demonstrated resilience against destructive policies and practices. Young people from diverse backgrounds—e.g. Ayakha Melithafa, Vanessa Nakate,  Greta Thunberg—are engaging at high-level summits[7] and  have utilized climate change activism as the catalyst for peacebuilding. Indigenous youth and allies including Oceti Sakowin[8] and the Wet’suwet’en solidarity movement[9] are leaders in environmental justice activism.

The rise in youth activism and the advent of YPS have produced opportunities (and the need for) advancing youth and peacebuilding research, practice, and pedagogy. This must be driven by the knowledge-production of young men and women, including those most directly affected by complex violence, through making education more democratic and accessible. We cannot wait for their contributions to be credentialed by years of study, because their visions of a peaceful world are informed in the now, by their important positionality and related material struggles and experiences of violence, and by their everyday peace practices and forms of resilience. Efforts such as the Youth, Peace and Security Research Network and Journal, undergraduate think tanks like the Desmond Tutu Peace Lab, and diverse economically-accessible masters programs in peace studies have important roles to play in supporting youth inclusion.

[1] Altiok, Ali, and Irena Grizelj. 2019. We Are Here:  An Integrated Approach to Youth Inclusive Peace Processes. New York: Office of the Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth; McEvoy-Levy, Siobhan, ed. 2006.Troublemakers or Peacemakers? Youth and Post-Accord Peacebuilding. South Bend: University of Notre Dame Press;  Özerdem, Alpaslan and Sukanya Podder. 2015. Youth in Conflict and Peacebuilding: Mobilization, Reintegration and Reconciliation. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

[2] Helen Berents and Siobhan McEvoy-Levy. 2015. “Theorising Youth and Everyday Peace(building).” Peacebuilding 3 (2) : 1-14.

[3] United Nations and Folke Bernadotte Academy, 2021. Youth, Peace and Security: A Programming Handbook, New York. Available:

[4] Isabel Vincent. 2021. “More children in Chicago have been shot than died from Covid” New York Post, September 11.

[5] In fact, gun violence increases and COVID in the US are “intersecting epidemics”.

[6] Cambria C. Khayat, “The Climate Crisis is a Form of Violence Against Young People”, Journal of Youth Peace, and Security, 1: 1, 34-39.

[7] Sam Meredith. 2021. ‘The power is in us, not the leaders’: Meet the youth activists fighting for climate action at COP26. CNBC Nov 9.

[8] Saul Elbein. 2017.“The Youth Group That Launched a Movement at Standing Rock”, New York Times  Jan 31.

[9] Tessa Knight 2019.“Capetown teen climate activist Ayakha Melithafa takes drought to the UN”, Daily Maverick, September 26;  No author 2020.“Ugandan Activist Vanessa Nakate Provides Voice for the Global South” Earthday February 27; Katrina Leclerc and Shayne Wong, “North America Needs Youth Peace and Security: Young People Shifting Tides for Positive Peace” Potentia: Journal of International and Public Affairs 12, Fall 2022, 124-153.


Cambria C. Khayat is a senior undergraduate student at Butler University, studying peace and conflict studies, economics, international studies, and Spanish. She is a member of the Desmond Tutu Peace Lab in Indianapolis and a researcher in the Youth, Peace, and Security Research Network. She has worked as a Rebel for Peace with One Solution Global in Chicago and interned with the Center for Interfaith Cooperation in Indianapolis.

Siobhán McEvoy-Levy is Professor of Political Science and Peace & Conflict Studies at Butler University, Director of the Desmond Tutu Peace Lab, and a former Visiting Fellow at the Kroc Institute.. Her publications include Peace and Resistance in Youth Cultures (Palgrave, 2018) and (as editor) Troublemakers or Peacemakers? Youth and Post-Accord Peacebuilding (Notre Dame, 2006)

Julio Trujillo is a first year Children’s Law Fellow at Loyola Law School, Chicago. He graduated from Butler University in 2019 and was the Neighborhood Youth Liaison Intern for the Desmond Tutu Peace Lab based at the Martin Luther King Community Center in Indianapolis.