Friday, January 31, 2014

HNMCP Hosts Harvard Community Dialogues

When a national crisis strikes, we look to experts to tell us what should happen next. However, sometimes this impulse disallows us from engaging in meaningful dialogue with one another about issues that directly impact us.

President Barack Obama’s comments regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria—and his response to those weapons—prompted a tense moment in American history. We did not know whether the U.S. would instigate military action, avoid getting involved, or find some other way to halt violence in Syria. We did know that the crisis triggered strong emotions and opinions. As dispute resolution professionals, we knew we could offer a space for Harvard students to explore those emotions and opinions with one another.

On September 13, 2013, the Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program (HNMCP) hosted a community dialogue in which students and staff from any Harvard school were welcome to reflect on Syria. Participants included residents of the US and abroad and represented a range of Harvard schools, including the Divinity School, School of Education, and the Law School.  After HNMCP Director Bob Bordone made a brief presentation about how we might think about evaluating the options, the participants separated into small groups. Each group determined the direction of the conversation and was led by a trained student or staff facilitator.

Participants were grateful for the space to express thoughts and emotions about a challenging topic, without fear they would be judged. We received resounding interest in future dialogues. So, when the US government was on the brink of shutting down in October, we planned another dialogue. On October 4, 2013, three days after the federal government closed, HNMCP hosted a community dialogue about the fiscal standoff.

HNMCP plans to continue offering fora for constructive and civil discourse on topics of communal concern. Watch our website for announcements about additional facilitated dialogues in 2014.