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Conflict Management Center is active on campus and off
Conflict Management Center is active on campus and offMarch 05, 2003Cynthia J. Moritzcjmoritz@syr.edu
Teaching conflict resolution skills to members of fraternities that have been suspended for fighting; training mediators for Human Resources’ staff complaint process; mediating conflicts between individuals, such as roommates or professors and their teaching assistants-people from SU’s Conflict Management Center (CMC) seem to be everywhere around campus these days.
And the CMC has become a presence off campus as well, working with various nonprofit groups. For example, it works with Eastside Neighbors in Partnership (ENIP) to teach conflict resolution skills to at-risk youth. Some graduates of the CMC’s annual 25-hour mediation training work as volunteers for Syracuse New Justice, which mediates family dispute situations delegated by the court system.
“We have had an unprecedented number of opportunities this year to do trainings and help resolve conflicts, both on campus and off,” says Lina Svedin, the CMC’s coordinator.
In addition to conducting mediations directly and training mediators, the CMC conducts train-the-trainer workshops. During Fall 2002, it also inaugurated new working groups to develop aspects of their curricula or new curricula altogether. So far, those working groups include one on diversity, one on asymmetrical power relations, one on simulations and one on nonprofit groups.
The diversity group is working on incorporating such issues as race, gender, ethnicity and sexuality into existing curricula. The asymmetrical power relations group is investigating what research knowledge can facilitate conflict resolution in situations such as the staff complaint process, where one party may have significantly more power than the other. The nonprofit group is working with the Academy for Leadership at Ohio State University to develop a leadership course that is a “sample platter” of different conflict management skills. The simulation group is setting up a mock situation in international crisis management that will run at the end of March. The interactive simulation, which is a joint project of CMC and two other Maxwell School entities, the Program on the Analysis and Resolution of Conflicts (PARC) and the Global Affairs Institute, will run at the end of March; it is new to CMC’s activities this year and is open to students, faculty and staff.
“We have some very bright and energetic, as well as knowledgeable, students,” says John Murray, director of the CMC. “They are doing really high-quality work.”
The CMC came into being in the late 1980s as an outgrowth of PARC. It provides an opportunity for PARC students and others to practice the skills they develop in classes on conflict resolution.
The CMC is funded by various organizations. Its services are often free. “If the organization we’re working with has a budget for the activity they want to do, we ask them to reimburse us for the trainers and materials,” says Svedin.
The CMC’s staff consists of Svedin, a doctoral student in political science, who functions as the coordinator of the center as a graduate assistantship for 20 hours per week, and Denni Jayme, another graduate student, who works as an assistant 10 hours per week. Svedin and Jayme coordinate the volunteers, training and mediations. They do some mediation themselves, but the bulk of the work is carried out by volunteers.
This year, the number of CMC volunteers has jumped significantly, to well over a hundred. “This year there has been more interest in volunteering than ever before,” says Svedin. Murray recalls that, three years ago, seven people signed up for the train-the-trainer seminar. The next year there were 28, then 30. Last year there were 50. Most of the volunteers are graduate students, but undergraduates and staff members are welcome to take part as well.
Diversity has increased along with numbers. In the past, almost all student mediators were enrolled in Maxwell programs, but now, the CMC has become more well known, with graduate students from the Newhouse School, the School of Management, the School of Education and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry involved in mediation and training.
Staff members have been encouraged to sign up as mediators for HR’s new staff complaint process. CMC is training those mediators in half-day sessions. In addition, staff members from such diverse areas of campus as Computing and Media Services, the LGBT Resource Center and the library have taken the CMC’s mediation training and work as volunteer trainers.
“CMC covers a lot of material in a short amount of time in an extremely competent manner,” says Curlene Autrey, director of diversity for the Department of Human Resources, who has been instrumental in implementing the staff complaint process. “While we can see that the training is the tip of the iceberg, CMC gives us even more confidence in the mediation process and the assurance that they will be there to help us through it.”