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Library Celebrates AU Role in Founding of Peace Corps

Delegates of the AU hosted conference on the topic of youth service abroad.

Delegates of the AU hosted conference on the topic of youth service abroad.

To honor American University’s historic connections with the Peace Corps and to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Corps, the library is sponsoring a special exhibit and presentation. While AU has long been recognized for producing many Peace Corps volunteers, its role in the founding of the Corps is probably not as well known. On March 1, 1961 President John F. Kennedy signed the Executive Order that created the Peace Corps. Within a month, American University hosted a conference co-sponsored by Americans Committed to World Responsibility (ACWR) and the National Student Association on the topic of youth service abroad. From March 29 to 31, the conference met in the Cassell Center, a building that previously occupied the site of the Katzen Arts Center. The conference drew students from around the country and was a critical foundation for the new program. R. Sargent Shriver, first Peace Corps Director, attended the conference and referred to it as a "milestone in the history of the Peace Corps."

After the conference American University faculty and staff continued to be involved with the establishment of the organization. AU, along with six other universities in the Washington DC area, served as a training center for Peace Corps volunteers. According to a Washington Post article, the local program consisted "primarily of training in languages, the culture and economy of countries where the volunteers (would be) sent and [the study of] American Government." Ernest O. Griffith, the Dean of the School of International Service at American University at that time was named chairman of a new Inter-University Peace Corps Policy Board that was responsible for planning training programs.

Peace Corps Exhibit and Papers from University Special Collections

More information about the early history of the Peace Corps can be found in the extensive exhibit on display on the lower level of the library. The exhibit features the people and events that developed the important international outreach program of today. The exhibit is on loan from the University of Michigan and will be on display from March 1 through September 2011.

Also on display in the first floor lobby is an exhibit from the Friends of Colombia Archives which is housed in American University Special Collections. This collection was established by Friends of Colombia, an organization for returned Peace Corps volunteers to Colombia, to document their lives and careers during and after their service in the Peace Corps.

American University Library and Friends of Colombia Honor Peace Corps’ Anniversary

On Peace Corps Day, Tuesday, March 1, University Librarian Emerita, Patricia A. "Pat" Wand will discuss "Cultural Adaptations: American Style Education and Libraries in the Arabian Gulf." Her talk draws on her four-year experience as Dean of Libraries at Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates. Ms. Wand has her own Peace Corps connection since she served in the Corps from 1963 to 1965 in Colombia. In 1969 she served on Peace Corps staff which trained teachers for Eastern Caribbean destinations. She currently serves on the Board of the National Peace Corps Association. Her talk will be given on Tuesday, March 1 from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. in the Founders Room of the School of International Service. For more information or to register, contact or call 202-885-3847.