to the Student Center at Resolve-it
College. Come on in and have a look around. Today in particular should
be an interesting day to visit, as this
afternoon the Center hosts the monthly RC Town
Hall Meeting. The college has been holding these kind of meetings
for almost a full year now and just about everyone agrees that they
are really beginning to reap the benefits. What makes today particularly
interesting is that a group of students have been occupying
the lobby of the administration building for 3-days in protest
over the college's contracts with college clothing and sporting goods
providers that the student's believe employ sweatshop labor. They plan
to speak out at the meeting and to ask questions of the college administrators
who, by the way, are regular attenders.
the organizers are a bit nervous about the meeting going well, they
seem to be quite well prepared. They learned
early on in the process that in order to be successful, town meetings
like this 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. You'll
notice that the chairs are already set up in a circular fashion, with
a number of microphones being prepared for use by community members,
as well as a couple of mics to be shared by the invited presenters.
And as you can see, the ground rules for the meeting process are posted
everywhere. A copy is on every chair, taped to each microphone stand,
and on the walls and doors on the way in. While you'd think people would
know the rules by now, it has proven quite helpful to have them widely
available as the group composition changes from meeting to meeting.
You'll also notice the big scorekeeper's clock that they used to keep
time and to limit speakers. At first I thought that the clock was a
bit much, but I've been to a number of these meetings now and I can
really see the value in having a clock that everyone can see and hear.
coordinating committee for the meetings has also made some special arrangements
so that the students who are remaining in the administration building
lobby, to hold down the fort so to speak, can hear what is happening.
They've also spent some time with the student group helping them choose
and prepare spokespeople who will attend the meeting. As is the now
common pattern, the meeting will open with brief opening statements
by the college president and the student union leader. This will be
followed by a brief presentation by a panel of university representatives
who can provide information on the current university practices and
policies. Then comes an open question and comment period, which is where
most of the real work and dialog occurs. Finally, there are closing
comments to wrap things up.
Resolve-it College Town Hall committee got most of their ideas for how
to run a good meeting from others with more experience. They discovered
that 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 there as well.
Along the way the CUNY
Dispute Resolution Consortium has developed sample guidelines for
town meeting facilitators that they were quite willing to share. Committee
members also found the specifics of the meeting process detailed in
Maria Volpe's 1998 article (see below) to be quite helpful.
it's sure to be an interesting afternoon here at the Center. Maybe you
should get a cup of coffee and stay for a while...
Volpe, M. (1998). "Using Town Meetings to Foster Peaceful Coexistence."
in Handbook of Interethnic Coexistence. E. Weiner, Editor.
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