Alumni Profile: Salvator Cusimano

‘Make the most of being in an environment where people really support your learning — it is such a privilege.’

Salvator Cusimano works at the centre of peacemaking efforts through his role as a Political Affairs Officer at the United Nations (UN) headquarter in New York City. Graduating from the University of Toronto in 2013 with a joint specialist in International Relations and Peace, Conflict and Justice (PCJ), Salvator credits his undergraduate experiences conducting field-based research with helping him explore his interests and chart his postgraduate path. Salvator completed independent research in Uganda, allowing him to complement his learning from PCJ by personally experiencing a post-conflict setting.

Q: When did you graduate from PCJ and what other programs did you study at UofT? 

A: I graduated in 2012 and I completed a joint specialist in International Relations and Peace and Conflict Studies with a minor in Political Science.


Q: What was your favourite aspect of PCJ?

A: Definitely my fellow students. I made a lot of friends in PCJ — it was great to be surrounded by people who were interested in really diverse subjects and critical thinking, and a lot of activists as well, who deeply cared about issues and were really involved in their community. It brought in so many different perspectives from varying fields which made our learning so much more diverse—which in turn helped me make sense of peace and conflict


Q: PCJ is such a broad and interdisciplinary program. How were you able to explore your interests and find a path that suited you?

A: I had a lot of freedom to take courses that I was interested in, and in my experience, the best ones were when I got the opportunity to get a credit for independent research. In the summer between my third and fourth year, another PCJ student and I went to Uganda to do a research project and then took that forward for an independent study course the following year. That was one of the best experiences I could have had as a student, being in a post-conflict setting first-hand, and it really gave me an opportunity to think about what kinds of areas in peace and conflict that I might follow in my career path. It also gave me the sense that if I wanted to pursue work in this area, that I could work on issues important to me.


Q: What influence did PCJ have on your path both at U of T and beyond?

A: Being a part of the program exposed me to people who cared so much about issues relating to peace, conflict and justice and it helped me realize how much I cared about conflict on a personal level. Without PCJ, I don’t know if I would have had the personal motivation to pursue a career in that field.


Q: What does your day-to-day work entail?

A:I have been working for the United Nations Secretariat for the last five years where I’ve been involved in peacemaking in various roles, mostly in the central and West African region. Now, I am working on peacemaking efforts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a Political Affairs Officer and work at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. My job as a Political Affairs Officer is to understand the political drivers of conflict in the country and the causes behind human rights abuses and other crises. Beyond the analysis side of things, I get to politically work with Member States of the United Nations and other partners in the region to build support for the measures that need to be taken to build sustainable peace in the country.

In my work, one thing has always stuck out to me: resolving conflict is a long process that requires that you build consensus; at times it can be incredibly frustrating but if you step back, you can see how the situation is evolving and maybe identify some places where there is good.


Q: What is something that you wish you knew when you were in PCJ?

A: It’s easy to say now that I have graduated and am working in the UN, but I wish I had focused a bit less on my marks and classes and instead explored my own personal interests and cultivated a sense of what I really cared about. There are so many opportunities in Toronto to get involved with social justice outside of the classroom and I wish I had done that more because I realized that the best education is through personal exposure.


Q: Do you have any last piece of advice for current students?

A: I would tell current students to learn as many languages as possible since it is so important in the field of peace and conflict studies. More importantly, though, I would advise students to make the most of being in an environment where people really support your learning — it is such a privilege.

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