Real Talk

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Real talk was a joint initiative between the Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program (HNMCP) and the Systemic Justice Project (SJP) in the 2015–16 academic year. SJP is a student driven policy innovation collaboration, devoted to understanding common and systemic sources of injustice, collaborating across a broad spectrum of stakeholders to promote lasting change.

For HNMCP, Real Talk represents one manifestation of our larger Political Dialogue and Facilitation Initiative.  For SJP, Real Talk was one of many sponsored programs whose goal is to identify injustice, design solutions, promote awareness, and advocate reforms to policymakers, opinion leaders, and the public.

Real Talk developed as the result of conversations between HNMCP Founding Director Robert C. Bordone, HNMCP Associate Sam Straus, SJP Faculty Director and Alfred Smart Professor of Law Jon Hanson, and SJP Program Director Jacob Lipton, identifying a shared interest to promote dialogue among Harvard Law School students on how the legal education can often silence student voices and experiences, especially as they relate to self-identity and personal narrative.

Specifically, the initiative was an effort to provide a low-risk, open, and inclusive forum for HLS students to learn with and from each other—a forum that encourages genuine dialogue around challenging issues, emotions, and narratives that relate to the law, legal systems, and legal education; a forum that promotes an inclusivity and openness that can often be discouraged and stymied in traditional law school classrooms; and a forum that promotes respect, understanding, curiosity about the other, and a willingness to engage even in our deepest moments of difference and dissent.

Real Talk launched as a pilot program in the Fall of 2015 with the goal of engaging a small number of Law School students, trained facilitators, and faculty in an innovative experiment of facilitated dialogue and open engagement on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion for selected HLS students. Each dialogue group was comprised primarily of first year law students and 1 or 2 upper-level students and a single trained facilitator who was an upper-level law student.  Each facilitation group remained constant for all four sessions in an effort to build connection and trust in the cohort. Facilitators were selected based on their training in facilitation and dialogic communication, each having participated in the HLS Lawyer as Facilitator workshop and HLS Negotiation Workshop, and having served as professional facilitators for the Program on Negotiation at HLS.

Two of the dialogues were in response to public events curated by SJP. The third allowed student participants and the facilitator to drive the topic based on the needs and preferences of the group. The curated events were:

SEPTEMBER 24, 2015

Fighting Debtors’ Prison in Ferguson
A panel discussion with:
Thomas Harvey, Executive Director of ArchCity Defenders
Alec Karakatsanis ’08, Co-founder of Equal Justice Under Law

After Ferguson, Baltimore, New York: Strategies for Systemic Change
A panel discussion with:
Thomas Harvey: Executive Director, ArchCity Defenders
Chiraag Bains ’08: Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division
Marbre Stahly-Butts: Center for Popular Democracy
Alec Karakatsanis ’08: Co-founder, Equal Justice Under Law

OCTOBER 27, 2015

On the Battlefield of Merit: the History of Harvard Law School
A lecture and discussion with:
Dan Coquillette, Charles Warren Visiting Professor of American Legal History, Harvard Law School