Tuesday, March 17, 2015

HNMCP Project to Contribute to the Next 50 Years of the Community Relations Service

CRS Team

Jennifer John, Caroline Sacerdote, and Sam Koplewicz

The Community Relations Service (CRS) serves as “America’s Peacemaker” for the U.S. Department of Justice, helping local communities address conflicts and tensions. CRS helps communities develop strategies to prevent and respond to violent hate crimes committed on the basis of actual or perceived race, color, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, or disability. By providing mediation, facilitation, training, and consulting services, CRS helps communities enhance their ability to independently prevent and resolve future conflicts.

As the Community Relations Service celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2014, CRS director Grande Lum ’91 and Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program (HNMCP) Director Robert Bordone’97 connected to discuss how HNMCP might aid the CRS in thinking through the conflict resolution needs of the nation over the next 50 years.

“It was a great honor for HNMCP to work with the CRS during this past fall. The work that CRS does is critically important for our country, especially during this period of heightened racial tension. I am particularly proud to have a collaboration with Director Lum, an alumnus not only of the Law School but also of the Harvard Negotiation Project in the early 1990s. We hope to partner with CRS in the future on its important mission related to community-problem solving and violence prevention.”

Jennifer John ’15, Sam Koplewicz ’16, and Caroline Sacerdote ’15, spent the Fall 2014 semester first interviewing stakeholders, including CRS employees and community groups, law enforcement, government officials, advocacy organizations, and educators. The team then developed a suite of recommendations. Through this project—and at a pivotal and fraught time in the nation’s history—John, Koplewicz and Sacerdote not only considered important issues related to identity and bias, but also developed concrete recommendations on how to best advance positive community relations in the years to come.

Team CRS Visit to DoJ

Team HNMCP visits the CRS offices in Washington, D.C. for project meetings.

“We interviewed CRS regional directors and conciliators in offices across the country. These are people with amazing resumes—former attorneys, chiefs of police, community organizers—with incredibly diverse and interesting perspectives doing important work in their communities,” notes Koplewicz. “Being able to speak with them, and meet with CRS Director Grande Lum was a rare opportunity and the highlight of the project for me was being able to listen in on, and contribute to, the ongoing conversation on conflict mediation around the nation.”

John and Sacerdote also noted how energized the team was by working with the very government agency addressing issues of racism and prejudice at the precise moment when grand jury decisions in Ferguson and Staten Island were released. “This project created space for us to think critically about how massive institutions such as the Federal Government can address these issues in a way we would never normally be able to tackle in law school,” says John.


Prof. Bordone and CRS Director Grande Lum teaching in the “Negotiation Workshop,” spring 2014.

“We got a lot of support from Alonzo [Emery ’10, the Clinical Instructor supervising the project] and from HNMCP in general,” noted Sacerdote. “Alonzo provided the perfect balance of support and autonomy, so we could really feel like we owned the project. As a result I think I internalized an unexpected sense of responsibility. I felt very privileged to be working on these issues right now.”

“Yes,” agrees John. “I was deeply invested in the outcome of the work. I knew I would care about this project before the decisions in Ferguson and Staten Island, but the kind of relationship we developed with the client was unexpected. We really wanted to do well for them, knowing that our project could potentially address issues deeply dividing the country.”

In reflecting on the project, Emery notes: “I was humbled by the depth of experience and passion of every single CRS employee we met. Their absolute dedication to some of the nation’s most pressing issues lent the students a heightened sense of commitment and we spent many a long night considering how we might prove most useful. I think all of us at HNMCP felt a renewed sense of hope by working on this project and, for that, I remain grateful.”

“It is an important time for CRS, and the nation, to assess how youth can contribute to preventing discrimination and senseless violence in our country. There is no question that youth play an important role in local police-community relations,” said CRS Director Grande Lum. “It is important that CRS recognizes youth as a key player in building community relationships. HNMCP students not only provided new and immediate solutions for CRS to assist communities, they also offered comprehensive and candid feedback that has led CRS to reflect on its future objectives.”