Peace Studies Professor’s Research Causes Conflict

A lot of hype has recently swirled around Assistant Visiting Professor of Peace Studies Victoria Fontan. The discussion is due to Fontan’s recent trip to Iraq, where she conducted research for ten days over winter break. She left the U.S. at the end of December to research, first in Beirut and then in Jordan before arriving in Baghdad. Her research in Iraq kept her there from January 3 through the 13. Fontan’s recent academic focus is political violence in post-conflict situations. Fontan has conducted field research on the Lebanese Hezbollah, a Basque nationalist group, the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) as well as various insurgent groups in Iraq. Fontan, who also works as a journalist in addition to teaching, has been to Baghdad numerous times over the past 15 months.This project is one that Fontan has spearheaded alone. Dan Monk, head of the Peace Studies Department, explained that each professor is entitled to his or her own research and that Fontan chose to voyage to Iraq. When asked whether this was a Colgate-sponsored trip, he explained that it was not. “This was entirely her own research, it was unaffiliated with Colgate,” Monk said.While in post-Saddam Iraq, Fontan focused primarily on the news coming out of the conflict-ridden territory, as well as who is choosing this news and how it may be contributing further to the conflict. She interviewed Iraqis working for NBC as well as Time Magazine and the Washington Post. Fontan interviewed Iraqi women working as reporters, who have often been targeted by insurgents because they have chosen to work with foreigners.Much controversy has surrounded the Peace Studies Professor after the use of the word ’embedded’ was posted on Colgate’s website in describing her interaction with terrorist groups in Iraq. It seems this was simply a misunderstanding that led to a poor word choice. Monk explained that Fontan has spent time interviewing many officials while in the Middle East and elsewhere. With her past research she has collaborated with many officials, including those, “actively involved in peace keeping,” Monk said. A recent clarification has been issued stating that Fontan, “did not live with insurgent groups nor did she attend meetings where terrorist activities were planned.” The clarification further adds the main focus of her visit was, “to observe the interaction of U.S. forces and local populations in Fallujah, Samarra and Najah.”She will be presenting her findings to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in the spring. Scott Silverstone, Assistant Professor at West Point invited Fontan to speak to the students and graduates, explaining that hearing of news and research from the area in which these students are fighting is extremely valuable. Fontan has addressed the Academy twice before, once in April and then again this past fall. Professor Monk spoke highly of Fontan’s opportunity to present her research. “West Point thinks it’s important to present research to young cadets,” he saidProfessor Fontan has seen and experienced first hand what we, at Colgate, have only seen displayed in most-likely biased photographs on the News and headlines strewn across daily papers. It is worthwhile to listen to these personal accounts and firsthand research, uncensored. Fontan plans to use this research she has collected to write a book on the polarization between occupying forces and the Iraqi people.