Symposium Teaches Conflict Resolution
The Oberlin College Dialogue Center’s recent symposium, “Global Responsibilities, Local Realities: Conflict Resolution at Oberlin,” allowed faculty, students and community members to learn more about the field of conflict resolution, both out in the world and locally at Oberlin.
The symposium, which consisted of 12 free lectures open to the public, ran from Nov. 3 through Nov. 6 and was supported by the dean of the College and the Office of the President, among other campus offices. Over 12 Oberlin alumni prominent in the field of conflict resolution returned to campus to participate in the event.
“[It aimed to] connect students to alumni and to let students and community members have a chance to learn about the various areas where conflict resolution can be important,” said College senior Lauren Stensland, a member of the symposium committee.
Lecture topics covered spiritual peacemaking, policy conflict in the field of international health and methods by which to transform protest to policy making in order to achieve successful activism.
Roger Conner (OC ’69) gave a lecture titled “Why Are They So Mad at Us?” investigating some reasons behind antagonism and the components of hate in the international community towards the United States. Bernard Mayor (OC ’68), in a lecture titled “Beyond Neutrality — Confronting the Crisis of Conflict Resolution,” spoke on the harsh realities of the field and its need for a redefined, broader purpose. In “Panel: OCDC’s Role on Campus,” OCDC members spoke on the history and purpose of its organization.
The creation of the symposium began when Yeworkwha Belachew, Ombudsperson/Symposium Committee Coordinator, asked last year’s graduating OCDC seniors to start a legacy project. This year’s symposium committee, consisting of eight students and four faculty members, finished the project by contacting speakers and organizing the event.
OCDC began in December 2000 when Belachew approached a group of students with a vision for a conflict resolution program. A survey of faculty and students in February 2001 showed that while everyone had to deal with conflicts, few people were trained to handle the disputes. A design team then came up with ways to address this issue.
Traditionally, mediation aims to “keep the peace,” focusing only on resolving specific conflicts.
However, OCDC, an organization independent of the College, takes a different approach. Instead of dealing with specific issues, OCDC members are trained to seek out larger issues and work towards greater understanding.
“OCDC emphasizes multi-partiality,” said College senior and OCDC member Pari Mody. “[This means] we take the sides of all people that we work with in order to help them feel empowered both during the mediation process and with its results.”
The committee functions under a social justice model, which encourages people to recognize inequalities, biases and prejudices in relationships.
“OCDC training changes the way you think,” Mody continued. “It makes you realize the inherent inequalities in all relationships and interactions, which we believe is at the root of many conflicts. This thought process is very useful, especially when you’re interacting with a diverse group of people.”
Mediations, which are confidential and voluntary, can take anywhere from two hours to three weeks. The mediators work in pairs and talk to the individuals involved in the conflict separately until it is safe and comfortable for them to be reunited.
Conner holds the committee’s progressive approach in high regard:
“[OCDC is] one of the most interesting experiments that is going on in
conflict resolution. [Students] treat it as normal to have an office like that
— it’s not...[they] have a really unusual asset.”