Teaching Empathy, Growing Peace

Seeing war and studying for his Ph.D. taught Bill Stover that empathy can make peace possible. It’s something he spent the rest of his life teaching others.

Teaching Empathy, Growing Peace
What Bill Stover saw in Vietnam as State Department employee during the American war there inspired a career seeking peace. / Image provided by Bill Stover

As a U.S. State Department officer, political science Professor Bill Stover witnessed the Tet Offensive. As a Ph.D. student in New York state, Stover became involved in the peace movement. These experiences left him deeply interested in empathy—its power to foster understanding and make room for peace. After arriving in 1975, Stover found new ways to help SCU students understand one another and the world.

In Bill Stover’s international relations class at SCU, students often found themselves on surprising sides of an argument. The courses included simulations of international conflict—and he encouraged people to take sides they may not agree with.

“It’s not enough just to read about (the other side),” Stover told Santa Clara Magazine in 2012. “You have to read from their perspective, and then you also have to act on their behalf. And by doing that, a greater sense of empathy is achieved.”

Over the decades, the simulations changed as the valley did. By the 1990s, Stover partnered with Mike Ballen, from the media services department, to develop online simulations of international conflict that students from dozens of other universities took part in. A global growing of empathy, and maybe of peace.

The courses left an impact. Janet Napolitano ’79, current president of the University of California system as well as former Secretary of Homeland Security and Arizona governor, recalled Stover as a professor who influenced her career.

His ability to empathize with others drove him to do good outside of the classroom as well. Stover, also a pilot, worked with the Flying Doctors over weekends and summers, transporting medical workers and equipment to communities that needed them.

Stover died June 11 following a long illness. He is survived by his wife, Mali Mann and his children, including Elinor Bewerdorff ’94.

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