Associate Professor; Director, Center for Conflict Studies; Chief Diversity Officer

Pushpa Iyer
McCone Building M124D
(831) 647-7104

Pushpa Iyer has many years of experience as a scholar, practitioner, and activist in the field of Conflict and Peace. Her work and research in Gujarat, India, South and South-east Asia and parts of Africa have focused on identity-based conflicts, non-state armed groups, and peacebuilding in societies emerging out of war and violence. Her efforts to bring peace between the divided Hindu and Muslim communities in Gujarat laid the foundation for her passion in social justice. She continues her activism work in her new home, the United States, through programs designed to fight racial inequity, discrimination, and violence in higher education institutions and beyond. As Associate Professor of Conflict Resolution in the Graduate School of International Policy and Management, she teaches courses related to conflict, development, peace, and race. As the first Chief Diversity Officer of the Institute, she coordinates various efforts to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in the school. A project she started in 2016 and continues to coordinate is Allies at MIIS, a research-cum-activism project to build allies for racial equity on campus. Outside of the Institute, she serves as the co-chair of the Dean’s Committee for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at her alma mater, the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (S-CAR) at George Mason University for 2019-2020 and is a member of other associations working for racial equity. She is the founding Director of the Center for Conflict Studies, where she plays the role of editor, trainer, researcher, and organizer. Dr. Iyer has published articles and chapters in various newsletters, journals, and books. 

Courses Taught

Courses offered in the past two years.

  • Current term
  • Upcoming term(s)

MEETING DATES: March 23, 2020 – April 10, 2020

Stories are an integral part of human life; they inform people’s emotional lives and are a cultural and social expression for societies around the world. Stories can reflect and help individuals and communities to examine their values, stereotypes and prejudices. The ability to tell stories can be empowering for marginalized communities by giving them the space to tell the truth and to put on record their demand for justice. For communities in conflict, stories often serve as an opportunity to deal with their past and as a platform to raise awareness about their suffering. As much as telling stories is natural to humans, storytelling skills to improve communication and listening can be learned. When storytelling is effective, it functions as a creative tool to transform conflicts while providing a voice to those who are voiceless. In this class, students will learn to use stories (telling, listening and developing) to build greater understanding and respect among individuals and communities in conflict and thus lay the foundations for effective change – social, cultural, institutional and political.

Spring 2019 - MIIS, MIIS Workshop, Spring 2020 - MIIS, MIIS Workshop

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We will study structural racism in this course by exploring the role that race and racism - experienced as disparities and discrimination - has played in making our social, economic and political structures unequal. Policy decisions then made by these unequal and therefore unjust institutions can only lead to furthering racial inequity. Even if deliberate policies are made to foster racial equity, the implementation of policies by those very same unequal institutions is fraught with hurdles. It results in a flawed policy in practice that does not really change ground realities. How can policies and their implementation break free from the structural inequalities that shape and execute them? This question expresses the biggest challenge in our work to end racism.

In this course, race will be understood more broadly than just skin color; it will include gender, sexuality, nationality, religion and other identities on which people are discriminated. Students will learn to analyze the sources of racism in policy decisions and will explore the impact of deliberate policies that tackle racism on broader race relations in society.

Fall 2018 - MIIS, MIIS Workshop, Spring 2020 - MIIS, MIIS Workshop

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In this course students will explore the mutually reinforcing relationships between theory, research and practice. They will map, review and connect the major theories they have studied at MIIS and beyond. They will explore how theories emerge and develop in the scientific community. Through mapping and review of their own research and practice experiences, students will then develop their own theories of practice. By the end of the course, they will be able to present a portfolio of their informed approach to some of the global challenges, which they hope to tackle as they step into the ‘real’ world.

Students may take this class only in their last semester at MIIS.

Spring 2019 - MIIS, Spring 2020 - MIIS

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Many in the U.S. experience race in much of their social, political and economic interactions. While conversations about race are taking place at various levels and through different forums, it is just not enough. And the ones that are the loudest in demanding that we not only bring these conversations more to the forefront but that we also develop tools to deal with race related conflicts are students and academics in educational institutions, especially those of higher learning.

Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS) is no exception. There are calls for acknowledgment of explicit and implicit racial bias in academic life and the need for deeper conversations about diversity on campus.

In order to encourage more sensitivity and develop better competency in dealing with race-related issues, the Center for Conflict Studies (CCS) has launched the program “Allies at MIIS”. The program invites students interested in being trained to become an ‘Ally for Racial Equity’. As an ally, the student participant will undergo a couple of sensitivity training sessions, will engage in research related to the topic of racial equity, engage with peers on campus and will present their work to the broader MIIS community through a variety of forums.

Fall 2018 - MIIS, Spring 2019 - MIIS, Fall 2019 - MIIS, Spring 2020 - MIIS

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Conflict is a complex phenomenon and its study requires a systematic analysis of its elements and its context. This includes identifying and understanding the root causes, attributes and dynamics of conflicts. Strong analysis lays the ground for the resolution and transformation of conflict and for the development and choice of intervention processes and tools.

This course gives students an introduction to the field of conflict analysis, resolution and transformation and is intended to provide a solid foundation for further inquiry and application. This course will provide students the theories, models and conceptual frameworks required for a holistic understanding of conflicts and will familiarize them with the existing terminology and concepts in the field. It will also introduce them to various intervention strategies, the skills and tools available for intervention, and help them recognize the assumptions upon which these tools rest. Using the reflective practice model and through classroom simulations, students will develop their personal ‘toolkit’ for intervening in conflicts.

Importantly, the course will connect theory to practice through application of models and frameworks, research and case studies analysis of events and interventions from all over the world.

It is hoped that students will leave class with more questions than answers. If this happens, the course will have met its intended goal of provoking inquiry into issues previously unquestioned.

Fall 2018 - MIIS, Fall 2019 - MIIS, Fall 2019 - MIIS, MIIS Workshop

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Decolonizing Knowledge for Racial Equity

Western colonization gave rise to Eurocentric, patriarchal, capitalist, Christian, and heteronormative paradigms that lead us to believe, advocate for and retain an epistemic hegemony. These centuries-old epistemic hegemonies, today, dictate our pedagogy, inquiry, and praxis when it comes to the acquisition, management, and dissemination of knowledge. This is because knowledge, more often than not, is generated by and within these systems of global inequalities and they, in turn, reinforce various forms of hierarchical, unequal and discriminatory structures built on race, gender, class, sexual, caste, ethnic, religious, linguistic and other identities. The implications of learning under hegemonic epistemologies (for example, in institutions of higher education) on various careers - such as development, peace and conflict, education, environment and related disciplines - is that we start with the belief that we have the answers to the world's most pressing problems leading us to re-colonize the colonized through our impositions. In this course, as a first step, we will question our own epistemologies and then, we will use decolonial (understood as going beyond post-colonial) theories to understand how knowledge is acquired, legitimized, and disseminated. Further, we will explore how decolonized knowledge can challenge power structures whether in the classroom or when working in the field.

It is highly recommended that students take this course in conjunction with the "Racism and Policy" course offered in the Fall but not necessarily in any particular sequence. Additionally, students might want to follow up on this course by taking "Dismantling Whiteness, Capitalism, and Patriarchy for Racial Equity" also offered in the Spring.

Fall 2019 - MIIS, MIIS Workshop

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In today’s global context it has become necessary to study the impact of war on women separately from that on men because of the changing nature of warfare which has created many new roles and therefore new experiences for women in war. This course primarily focuses on studying war as a gendered phenomenon in which the experiences of women, as combatants, victims, and peacebuilders are explored. Through an inter-disciplinary approach, students will learn to analyze the intersections between women (as an identity group), and culture, security, nationality, and peace in periods before, during and after war. The use of case studies (group projects) in this course will help connect the various aspects of gendered warfare. Further, the political, social, cultural, policy, and legal measures initiated to mitigate the negative impacts of war on women and to promote a more prominent role for women, as peacebuilders and decision-makers, will be examined.

Fall 2019 - MIIS, MIIS Workshop

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Dismantling Whiteness, Capitalism, and Patriarchy for Racial Equity

Critical Race Theory places racial identity at the center of conflicts while the intersectionality approach supports the understanding of race conflicts as the unraveling of our complex identities. These identities of class, race, gender, sexuality, physical attributes, nationality, and the likes are definitely intertwined (intersectionality) but they are also often separate conflicts that can broadly be explained as three pillars (paradigms) of an unequal structure - the big global structure - and the three pillars being Whiteness, Capitalism, and Patriarchy. Race conflicts are largely within the paradigm of Whiteness but often intersect with the conflicts under the structures of Capitalism and Patriarchy. The conflicts within each one of these three paradigms and between them, raise questions about how we approach or how we should approach intersectionality when it comes to race conflicts. Borrowing from Critical Race Theory and from theories in Conflict Resolution, students in this class will explore creative approaches to race conflicts that exist within an oppressive structure but also link to the other unequal, unjust and discriminatory structures.

It is highly recommended that students take this course in conjunction with the “Racism and Policy” course offered in the Fall but not necessarily in any particular sequence. Additionally, students might want to prepare for this course by taking “Decolonizing Knowledge for Racial Equity” also offered in the Spring.

Spring 2019 - MIIS, MIIS Workshop

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Today, students of almost every social science discipline (conflict studies, development, security studies, and related disciplines), engage in research that involves gathering information from primary sources. Primary data is what transforms research from an abstract state to a more ‘real’ relevant body of knowledge. For the research-cum-practice student seeking to get their hands dirty - to experience first hand the realities that inform theories and concepts - the need to prepare for fieldwork has become a must. How does one conduct oneself when on the ground? How does one represent themselves to people who in effect are sources of data? How does one handle the information gathered and present it to their broader academic and professional community? What role does one’s personality, culture, ethics, values play in data gathering and reporting? What does one do in highly emotional and sensitive contexts? How does one observe, analyze and understand the physical, society and cultural aspects of the context in which data is being collected? And most importantly, how does one maneuver the context to achieve the goals of fieldwork without compromising on core pre-determined personal ethics and values.

This course will engage students in a discussion on responsible data gathering. It will highlight the importance of a self-reflective approach in fieldwork where one is prepared to test hypothesis, challenge oneself in the face of new information including being proved wrong. It will also seek to explore how one reconciles personal values, ethics and emotions with fieldwork goals. Students will work through scenarios and have an opportunity to experiment in data gathering and reporting in simulated settings.

This course may be a pre-requisite for J-Term immersive learning courses led by this instructor.

Fall 2018 - MIIS, MIIS Workshop

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Areas of Interest

Dr. Iyer is passionate about social justice, which she understands as navigating social change through creative approaches. Specializing in understanding and analyzing social change and developing tools to manage the process, she believes that students should follow their heart but balance it with strategic knowledge and skills. She takes a value-based approach to teaching and learning. Her more recent efforts are focused on getting students and colleagues to consider how our colonized minds impact knowledge acquisition and dissemination.

Academic Degrees

  • PhD in Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University
  • MBA (International Management), University of East London, UK 
  • Post-Graduate Diplomas in Human Resources Management, Organizational Behaviour, Sacred Heart University, Luxembourg and Academy of Human Resources Development, India 
  • Bachelor of Law (Labour Laws), Gujarat University, India 
  • India Bachelor of Commerce, Gujarat University, India

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