Faculty Spotlight: Alan Gilbert
John Evans Professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, Professor Alan Gilbert takes full advantage of the opportunity to tackle harrowing social justice and economic issues across cultures with his students. He has vast knowledge on a variety of subjects and time periods throughout history, from medieval Islam to slavery in the United States, and continues to address current conflicts from Israel vs. Palestine to Colorado’s Jefferson County School Board vs. Community.
Much of Dr. Gilbert’s passion stems from his experiences in social justice as a young adult. Raised in New York and Connecticut, his father was an economic advisor to President Roosevelt, and Dr. Gilbert grew up in affluence with maids and nannies, most of whom were black. He developed close bonds with many of his family’s servants, opening his eyes to the paradoxes between rich and poor, and black and white, during the heated national climate of the Civil Rights Movements of the late 1950s and 1960s. Dr. Gilbert recalled one evening watching the news on TV, when a National Guardsmen broke rank to defend a black schoolgirl from physical harm as the crowds grew violent. He remembers that he and his father cheered, and it was one of the many experiences that has fueled his fight against oppression today.
Thus began a lifelong dedication to promoting tolerance and defending social justice. Dr. Gilbert stated, “I’ve never bought into the idea that one person should suffer for someone else’s benefit.” He earned a degree in Government from Harvard University, where he helped lead the campus anti-Vietnam War movement. Dr. Gilbert went on to earn a Master’s of Science from the London School of Economics, and then returned to Harvard to complete his doctorate. He began working, first as an assistant Professor, at the University of Denver in 1975, and was awarded the title of John Evans Professor for the Josef Korbel School of International Studies in 2001.
Dr. Gilbert provides exploration into topics such as democratic theory, social theory, philosophies of science and social science, ethics and more in his classes taught through the Korbel School of International Studies. Students in his courses gain an in-depth and raw perspective of conflict, social activism and effective participation in change. His most recent book, Black Patriots and Loyalists, was awarded the American Book Award by the Before Columbus Foundation, and he was interviewed by 3:AM Magazine in 2012 for his work in political philosophy and his support of the Occupy Wall Street movements.
Gilbert says that the root of conflict resolution is that one must believe that everyone has an opinion and a soul. In his classes, he stresses the importance of being able to absorb someone else’s perspective and be comfortable living with both their opinion and your own in your mind. He believes that tolerance begins with conflict resolution skills that guide people toward a mutual understanding and a value for all human life. “The key,” he explains, “is doing away with this notion of the ‘Other,’ this group that we’re supposed to be fighting or winning against.”
In order to create social change, Dr. Gilbert is a great believer in mass peaceful demonstrations, noting the success of Gandhi and the civil rights movement in the U.S. He talks animatedly and passionately about the incredible power of non-violence and the practice and creation of more non-violent methods of addressing conflicts. Dr. Gilbert also points out a concept integral to the study of Conflict Resolution but foreign to society at large: conflict itself is not negative thing, and that often there must be large, challenging conflicts first in order to resolve strife and create progress. What is important is the application of, and respect for, attitudes that promote resolution rather than attitudes that foster competition and division.
Professor Gilbert can be contacted at: Alan.Gilbert@du.edu
--Marina Dosch, MA '15