Wednesday, May 4, 2016

HNMCP Launches New Dialogue and Facilitation Initiatives

During the 2015–2016 academic year, the Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program (HNMCP) expanded work in a new Dialogue and Facilitation Project by launching two innovative programs, one in the fall and one in the spring semester.

Real Talk

In Fall 2015, HNMCP, in collaboration with the Systemic Justice Project (SJP) at Harvard Law School, launched a joint initiative called Real Talk—a series of small group facilitated dialogues and curated events for HLS students on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Real Talk developed from a shared interest of HNMCP and SJP to promote dialogue on how legal education can, at times, silence student voices and experiences, especially as these experiences relate to identity and personal narrative. The project is an initial effort to provide a forum for HLS students to learn with and from each other— encouraging genuine conversation around challenging issues, emotions, and narratives that relate to the law, legal systems, and legal education; a forum that promotes an inclusivity and openness, respect, understanding, and curiosity about the other, and a willingness to be “raggedy” even in our deepest moments of difference and dissent.

The pilot program brought together a small number of HLS student participants, trained student facilitators, and faculty advisors in an innovative experiment. Four student facilitators with extensive facilitation training and experience—Ariel Eckblad ‘16, Deanna Parrish ’16, Carson Wheet ‘16, and Lindsey Whyte ‘16 – led small groups of six participants (composed of first and third year law students) in four dialogue sessions throughout the fall semester. The four dialogue sessions were bolstered by several events, which served as the basis for two of the dialogue sessions. The first was “Fighting Debtor’s Prison in Ferguson,” a panel discussion with Thomas Harvey, Executive Director of ArchCity Defenders and Alec Karakatsanis ’08, Co-founder of Equal Justice Under Law. The second was “After Ferguson, Baltimore, New York: Strategies for Systemic Change,” a panel discussion with Thomas Harvey, joined this time by Chiraag Bains ’08: Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division, Marbre Stahly-Butts: Center for Popular Democracy, and Alec Karakatsanis’08, Co-founder of Equal Justice Under Law; and 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.

The first iteration of Real Talk was met with great appreciation. Participant feedback indicated that the program provided a supportive environment to express their experiences and perspectives, listen to the stories and views of others, and to share and receive a sense of empathetic understanding. For one participant, the program provided a unique opportunity: “It felt good to be a part of providing a space to confront some of these difficult, real issues. We don’t take the time in law school (or even in most other places today) to slow down and listen to each other.” Facilitator Deanna Parrish, in reflecting on her experience in her post for the HNMCP Blog, entitled Resetting Broken Bones: Real Talk at Harvard Law School, was optimistic about the potential impact of this project: “I am drawn to facilitation work because of the amazing things I’ve seen come from human connection. Conflicts resolved and avoided. Emotional breakthroughs. Brainstorming and organizing. Against the backdrop of a legal system that suppresses too many voices, facilitation is the revolutionary work of helping people hear themselves, and hear each other.” Throughout the initiative, we developed an even deeper appreciation for how important spaces for authenticity, reflection, vulnerability, and conflictedness are in higher education and legal training. The HNMCP team hopes to explore ways to continue and expand Real Talk over time.


In Spring 2016, HNMCP launched HLS Now—a quick response dialogue project that delivers facilitated small-group discussions for members of the HLS community in the wake of major happenings on campus, in national politics, or on the world stage. A small group of Harvard Law School students, trained by HNMCP faculty and staff, facilitate these conversations. In explaining the inspiration for the project, HNMCP Director Prof. Bob Bordone, suggested that, “Far too often we are faced with events that raise critical questions of law, identity, connection, belonging, alienation, and difference—questions that cut to the core of who we are—without any forum to engage in real conversation. This project seeks to fill that void, providing a space for real engagement on the issues and events that impact us the most.”

As part of the pilot, the HNMCP team delivered two four-hour training sessions to a small corps of six student facilitators – Patricia Alejandro ’17, Sam Koplewicz ‘16, Samyel Lee ‘18, Mitha Nandagopalan ‘18, Susie Park ‘16, and Rathna Ramamurthi ‘17. This training provided participants with the theory and practice of designing small group dialogue, and the skills to effectively guide these discussions. The HLS Now subsequently facilitated a number of sessions on-campus including one related to the Harvard corporation’s decision to retire the Royall shield. We hope to build the HLS Now initiative in the years ahead.