To Dialogue: Moving Towards Conversation About Refugee Resettlement in Maine

A team from the student practice organization Harvard Law School Negotiators worked throughout the Spring 2017 semester with Catholic Charities Maine on a new project entitled, “To Dialogue: Moving Towards Conversation About Refugee Resettlement in Maine.”

Mark Tomaier ’17, one of the project leaders, said of the experience, “This has been one of the most meaningful projects I’ve had in law school.” Tomaier led the project alongside Naomi Campbell ’17. In the Fall of 2016 both were students in HNMCP’s advanced course “The Lawyer as Facilitator”. Their work around dialogue and refugee resettlement in Maine this Spring drew heavily upon pedagogical theory in negotiation and facilitation they’d learned in the classroom.

Catholic Charities Maine Refugee and Immigration Services (CCM) program is the only refugee resettlement program in the state of Maine. The program connects refugees to housing, legal assistance, mentorship programs, and career assistance, as well as outreach to schools, churches, and community groups throughout the state. As with the larger national conversation, the issue of refugee resettlement sits heavily in the minds of many folks in Maine. CCM can be faced with various challenges when presenting their work to people of varying perspectives on this issue. CCM welcomed the Negotiators team to help them expand their skillset and approaches when engaging the public on this contentious political issue.

The Negotiators team sought to understand CCM’s current efforts to reach the public by engaging staff members in in-depth conversations about their current practices. Based on their understanding of these current practices and of CCM’s short-term and long-term interests, the students then put together a training focused on facilitation skills. The students provided specific facilitation strategies that could serve as a starting point for Catholic Charities Maine staff as they think about how to engage a wide variety of people in dialogue.

In April of 2017 students and staff came together for the training at the Catholic Charities Maine office in Portland, Maine. The training gave staff the opportunity to practice active listening skills, learn about some of the pitfalls of facilitating group dialogue on contentious political issues, and strategize about how to handle some difficult situations that they typically face in their presentations.

“The HLS training helped our staff confront concerns about navigating challenging conversations while also practicing the skill of truly listening to understand,” said Hannah DeAngelis, Program Director for the Catholic Charities Maine Refugee and Immigration Services Program and a training participant. “I think that building our facilitation skills with HLS Negotiators helps expand our capacity to do this work with people of many different backgrounds, experiences, and political viewpoints.”

After the half-day training in Portland, the HLS Negotiators team followed up with the staff and provided them with a set of written resources on facilitation so that staff could continue to take steps in the direction of productive state-wide public conversations.

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