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Volume 2, Number 3, May 2002

Slouching Towards Inclusion

by Carol Miller Lieber & Jamala Rogers

Reprinted with permission from the The Fourth R
Volume 56, April/May 1995

Okay, so we all agree we want our staffs to be more diverse and inclusive. We'd all love to have more trainers on our staffs who bring perspectives and experiences of non-dominant groups and cultures to the conflict resolution field. And we all want our work to be more responsive to the needs of different communities. So why doesn't it happen?

Yes, there is a shortage of resources for everyone in the field. Yes, there never seems to be enough time to do the outreach and mentoring that we should. And yes, too few foundations are serious about funding efforts which could support and strengthen a more diverse cadre of practitioners, particularly those who work in our most vulnerable communities.

Although all of these obstacles are real, we would like to suggest a more personal reason for so little change regarding who does the work and how it gets done: We, professionals in the conflict resolution field, just don't pay attention often enough! Those of us who live in the dominant culture of the white European, educated, middle class can scrutinize and analyze other people and other groups relentlessly and still not come to terms with our own biases and limitations. If we truly believe that self-awareness is so important for others, we ourselves need to rethink what we do and how we do it.

Several years ago, we, Carol and Jamala, made an agreement with each other to pay attention to the "diversity problem" and rethink our practices, with two goals in mind. First, in a city that remains socially, professionally, and geographically segregated, we want to build a crosscultural team of folks who willingly choose to work together. We also hope that our partners take their conflict resolution tools, and their commitment to inclusion and flexibility, to groups and projects outside of our collaboration. Second, we want to move beyond the settings, audiences, and facilitators already associated with conflict resolution in our local community. This has meant that we often choose to ignore established practices and professional protocol in an effort to break the conventional boundaries that influence the staffing, scope, and methodology in conflict resolution work. In this article, we will describe briefly some problematic situations we encounter as we rethink our practices and some of the "rules of thumb" we have developed to deal with these situations.


A group of "well-connected" white educator/consultants wrote and received a foundation grant to do conflict resolution work with staff and students in a city school with an African American student population and an integrated staff.

What Could Have Happened: This could have been another case of "outsider" white folks coming in and telling black folks what to do.

What Did Happen: The coordinators intentionally hired a cross-cultural project staff, including African Americans and Latinas, who implemented the project.

Rule of Thumb #1:
Build a team of diverse trainers and associates, including volunteers and part-time staff. Ask people in the community to identify folks they know who are "good with kids" or who "can keep a group cool when tempers are hot." Beat the bushes looking for potential trainers who may not have had access to advanced formal schooling or conventional conflict resolution training. Keep in mind diversity of gender. We notice a striking split in the field: Academics are mostly male and "front line" practitioners are mostly female. We've discovered that just the presence of young men can make a powerful difference in the impact of the training. In longer trainings, we have often set aside several non-paying slots for young men who have been identified as potential leaders.

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Page last updated 11/27/2005

A project of Campus Conflict Resolution Resources.
Supported by a FIPSE grant from the US Department of Education
and seed money from the Hewlett Foundation-funded CRInfo project.

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