Clocktower at Night

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Volume 2, Number 3, May 2002

Slouching Towards Inclusion (page 3 of 3)


Several universities are interested in developing more opportunities for diversity and conflict resolution training in their undergraduate and graduate teacher education programs. There is never enough money to hire two instructors from different ethnic backgrounds and frequently, the desired instructors don't have Ph.D.'s.

What Could Have Happened: The university could have hired one instructor, representing only one ethnic background.

What Did Happen:
Two universities have allowed two instructors (one black and one white) to split the fees and co-teach courses and workshops. One university has also agreed to allow non-Ph.D. instructors to teach courses as long as a full-time faculty member "signs off" as the instructor of record.

Rule of Thumb #7:
Find academic allies who are committed to the goals of this work and push the boundaries of traditional courses and teaching configurations as much as you can.

Rule of Thumb #8: Especially when working with mostly African American or mostly white groups of students or teachers, we often insist on providing at least two facilitators, even if this results in reduced fees for individual trainers. The power of modeling inclusiveness can never be underestimated.

The final rule is to throw out some of our rules. If we are seeking genuine inclusiveness, some of us have to lighten up. Professional competence and success can be habit-forming. Relying on tried and true procedures and a standard set of conflict resolution models can prevent us from reaching audiences who might challenge "the way we do things." We all love it when participants leave a training with the emerging insight that "here is no right way." But are we willing to admit the same about our own training methods and approaches? Are we willing to adjust our goals, agendas, and outcomes to the cultural context of our work? Do we risk experimentation? We'd like to close with a situation that helped us face these questions head on.

We were training a group of young people who told us flat out that nobody could work with them. The community center's coordinator had asked us to design a two day training that would help students develop some negotiation and mediation tools. When we met the kids, they were glued to cartoons on the T.V. Our first day's agenda included making agreements, small group dialogues, community building exercises, and interactive activities that we thought would be fun and help introduce communication tools and skills. After several exhausting hours, we gave each other the look that said, "This isn't working." The pace was too slow and we hadn't grabbed them.

We chucked the agenda, drove home, got the camcorder and tape deck, brought it back to the room, and didn't say a word. Kids immediately wanted to know what we were going to do. We asked them if they would like to be videotaped practicing some problem-solving. We showed a brief student mediation, cooked up a juicy interpersonal conflict, gave the kids our one page mediation "cheat sheet," and let the camera roll.

We took turns being co-mediators with different students and debriefed each practice with the rest of the kids who were remarkably astute at identifying the process steps and mediation skills that enabled mediators to help the disputants work it out. When the kids watched the tape, they were also quick to suggest what could make each mediation better next time. We broke every rule in the book regarding "good process" and coherent sequence. But by allowing ourselves to step back and pay attention -- and notice that they were more focused on the T.V. than anything else -- we broke through the resistance and hooked them into the process. A final note on building authentic crosscultural partnerships: The bad news is there are no short cuts. All those hours spent blabbing about nothing, commiserating about the state of the world, and continually questioning beliefs and assumptions do build trust, comfort, and mutual respect. We are writing this article collaboratively at 11 pm on a Sunday night -- a testament to both the challenges and rewards of building sustained cross-cultural partnerships.

Carol Miller Lieber is co-director of the Partners in Learning program of educators for Social Responsibility (ESR) and author of Conflict Resolution in the High School and Making Choices About Conflict, Security, Peacemaking.

Jamala Rogers is Director for the Office of Youth Development for the City of St. Louis and chairperson of the St. Louis Black Leadership Roundtable.

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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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Campus Conflict Resolution Resources Project
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