Resolve-it College Student Center

Welcome 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.

While 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.

The 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.

The 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.

Anyway, 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. NY:Continuum Books.


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