Student Spotlight: Laura Taylor, Psychology and Peace Studies

Author: Mary Hendriksen

Laura Taylor, Ph

Laura Taylor, a Ph.D. student at the University of Notre Dame in psychology and peace studies, focuses her research on the impact of war and violence on individual people—specifically, on children and families in Croatia, Northern Ireland, and Colombia.

UNICEF estimates that during the past decade, armed conflict around the globe has been the cause of more than 2 million deaths, an additional 6 million disabilities, and the homelessness of more than 20 million children. “Ethnic violence and conflict often are described in terms of their effects on nations or collective groups,” Laura says. “But fundamentally, it is mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers who suffer.”

“Learning more about the long-term effects of ethnic violence on children and families can help promote healing and community reconciliation, and prevent new outbursts of violence in post-conflict areas around the globe,” she explains.

Before beginning her doctoral work at Notre Dame, Laura participated in peacebuilding efforts in several countries—efforts that, as her current work demonstrates, can be best understood by employing skills from several academic disciplines. One opportunity allowed her to provide mental health support to survivors of genocide in Guatemala. “The parents who lived through the ‘scorched earth’ campaign of the 1980s asked us not only to help them but also to start a program for their children. The survivors were dedicated to working with the next generation to make sure that ‘nunca más’ (never again) became a reality in Guatemala,” she explains.

Now at Notre Dame, Laura is among the first students to pursue a Ph.D. in the new peace studies doctoral program, offered through Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. She has worked with Mark Cummings, professor and Notre Dame Chair in Psychology, and several international colleagues to collect data in two societies that have experienced extensive conflict: Croatia and Northern Ireland. “In Croatia, we are studying the post-war adjustment of children and parents in Vukovar, a city deeply divided along ethnic (Croat/Serb) lines. Aggression, depression, and other social problems are widespread there. In Northern Ireland, we’re examining whether crime and political violence predict maladjustment among children exposed to sustained inter-ethnic tensions.”

Laura has also initiated a research project in Colombia on the impact of violence on mental health, civic participation, and attitudes toward transitional justice with the guidance of John Paul Lederach, professor of the practice of international peacebuilding at the Kroc Institute.

“In all three societies,” Laura explains, “our research can inform mental health and peacebuilding interventions by identifying successful coping mechanisms for victims of political conflict. Once I receive my Ph.D., as a scholar-practitioner, I will continue to work alongside individuals and communities mired in violent conflict to find ways to mitigate potential threats and to mobilize local conflict transformation. My hope is to educate, support, and involve generations of citizens and students in building peace.”