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