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Volume 2, Number 3, May 2002

Extending Campus Conflict Resolution Efforts Beyond the Mediation Table (page 4 of 6)

Supporting Non-violent Social Protest and Change

While student protests today are less visible nationally than in the turbulent 1960s, they still occur with surprising regularity. Because protestors and campus administrators may not have open lines of communication, campus mediation program coordinators should consider developing a capacity to respond in campus protest situations. Trustworthy neutrals can greatly facilitate the negotiations required to settle many campus protests. However, getting all the parties to the table can be difficult, and sometimes is inappropriate based on the timing, the level of organization of involved groups, or considerable power imbalances. Program coordinators may thus wish to expand their view of their role beyond that of mediator, to include a larger function as a community peacemaker and networker.

It is important to be clear on the role one is playing in conflict situations, and not to assume that you or your office can provide all necessary supports. To help mediators locate their role, the late Jim Laue, a former Community Relations Service mediator and faculty member at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution identified a range of primary roles or functions that may be played out in community disputes. These roles include activism, advocacy, mediation, research, and rule enforcement. Part of maintaining credibility as a mediator involves developing ways to demonstrate respect for and develop rapport with individuals playing other equally important functions. Mediation program staff should take the opportunity to develop relationships and work cooperatively (if informally) with others on campus who serve the function of helping to research the existence or root causes of conflict; enforcing community rules and standards; advocating for needed changes; or assisting disadvantaged groups get organized through activism and education. Developing these kind of relationships takes time and care, but are important if one hopes to adopt more of a peacemaking role on campus and to be respected as a mediator when the time is ripe.

A number of non-mediation innovations have developed on campuses that directly support nonviolent campus protest and expression of dissenting views. They are often called Observer, Peacekeeper or Monitor programs. The peacekeepers typical job description is to stand on the fringe of a protest action or between two rival groups and keep their eyes open for potentially dangerous or threatening situations, and to move to intervene when necessary to prevent violence. They are usually made easily identifiable using hats, t-shirts, or armbands that set them apart from the group.

Other projects work directly with current and potential student protesters. Sometimes this involves teaching the basic organizing skills necessary to educate and mobilize others to a cause. In other circumstances work involves teaching potential protestors the skills of disciplined nonviolent protest, using role plays, and other training activities known as hassle lines and quick decision exercises to prepare participants for possible challenges.

Campus mediation programs that help a university respond effectively and respectfully to campus protest are providing a valuable service by helping the campus to respond and adapt to change, and by providing students with the opportunity to develop leadership skills and an awareness of their ability to make a difference.

Responding to Conflicts over Diversity, Culture and Values

Many campuses face conflicts involving clashes between diverse cultures, political views, and strongly held moral values. These kinds of conflicts may often involve acts of incivility or violence, and can quickly become quite heated. A good general source of information on campus diversity initiatives is DiversityWeb, an online project developed by the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the University of Maryland. A great deal of thinking and experimentation has occurred on how to best respond to these kinds of issues, and just a few examples of current practice are noted below.

Town Hall Meetings

The public convening of individuals or groups in a town meeting format to discuss controversial issues can be a very effective tool for promoting respectful coexistence. In order to be successful, town meetings require an even-handed moderator and very clear, well-publicized groundrules and procedures to prevent conflict escalation or domination of the meeting by one participant or group. The application of campus town meetings is perhaps most well-developed at John Jay College of Criminal Justice-CUNY. What began as a short-term response to a crisis (a 1989 student take-over of the college's buildings), has become a regular (monthly) part of the campus life.

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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.

Correspondence to CMHE Report
(Attn: Bill Warters)
Campus Conflict Resolution Resources Project
Department of Communication
585 Manoogian Hall
Wayne State University
Detroit, MI 48201.

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