Like most people, Julie Chalfin yearns for peace on earth. Unlike almost everyone, she has found a way to make a sustainable difference. With the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs, Dr. Chalfin uses applied social psychology to help nations reeling from the turmoil of political upheaval. "One thing we do is promote security-sector reform," she says, "Which means reforms in the military, police, and justice systems. To create stability in post-conflict environment is one of the biggest challenges to face. Many of these countries' military personnel were trained as guerrilla forces. When these forces become part of their nation's armed forces after a conflict, they may have insufficient training or unclear guidelines. Our job is to train and equip security forces to truly be protectors of their populations. Obviously, this includes training in human rights issues—many can’t recognize what a human rights abuse is."
The training can sometimes be for misguided governments, as well. "Governments have to make sure their soldiers get paid," Dr. Chalfin points out. "If soldiers don't get paid, they will look for other sources of income. This means they can't be loyal, and may be causes of trouble. The aim is to make them protectors of the people." This work has drawn her to Africa numerous times, specifically to the Congo, southern Sudan, and Kenya. "This was my vision for my career. I wanted to contribute to making peace in the world."
Her journey began as a graduate student, combining training in applied social psychology with transdisciplinary coursework in policy and politics at Claremont Graduate University. From the Claremont Dispute Resolution Center, she went to work for the Carter Center in Atlanta and the International Rescue Committee in Los Angeles, all while finishing her doctoral dissertation. "I worked with refugees from Somalia, Iran, eastern Asia, and Sudan," she remembers. "And this all went towards my doctoral portfolio. CGU definitely encouraged applied work!"
After completing two post-doctoral projects on psychosocial issues facing victims of conflict and natural disasters (one at University of Pennsylvania's Asch Center for Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict and a second at Save the Children in Washington, D.C.) she changed directions. Her new focus deals more with policy than with aiding individuals one-on-one. "I feel that I’m contributing to something bigger, having a much broader impact," she says of her current work. "There are definitely visible results when helping one person, but helping to shape policy is extremely rewarding because of the potential for how many people you can reach with the work. We are contributing to peace. It may sound idealistic, but that’s what motivates me, makes me excited to wake up in the morning and get to work."