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Conflict Resolution Institute

CRI News & Events

Karen Feste

Teaching in Trinidad

As part of a U.S. government sponsored grant between the University of Denver Conflict Resolution Institute and the University of the West Indies-St. Augustine Campus Behavioral Science Division to develop mediation capacity building in Trinidad and Tobago, I taught an intensive one-month graduate course "Conflict Resolution Theory and Approaches" introduced as a new class in the curriculum for students enrolled in their post-graduate diploma program and the recently developed master's degree at UWI, at the beginning of the University's spring semester, 2007.

The class met twice-weekly, from 5-8 in the evening, over a four-week period from roughly mid January through mid February. The scheduling was perfect. During this period Denver weather was a series of snowy blizzards, cold days, and impassable roads while the Caribbean (the Island of Trinidad is just seven miles off the coast of Venezuela) was balmy: warm, sunny, tropical. Relaxed. Carnival season celebrating the start of Lent (the country hosts the third largest festival in the world!), culminating in late February, was well underway. An energetic atmosphere of anticipation and creativity prevailed; the spirit was captured in the seminar as well. How do national events lay bare aspects of social conflict? And, how do these events likewise, reflect norms of conflict resolution? Such broad issues were brought into discussion. There were 31 students in the "seminar,"—mostly mid-career, full-time employees; their professional backgrounds diverse: law, theology, teaching, business—including oil and gas, and utilities. Several came from the police department (human resources, probation), others from government (foreign ministry, social development—national and provincial levels). The group represented all parts of the island of Trinidad, from Port of Spain to San Fernando, and three traveled from the neighboring island of Tobago. Many were experienced mediators. Everyone had some background in Alternative Dispute Resolution techniques and familiarity with basic ideas.

Many of the students were active in discussion sessions, asking questions, and presenting individual points of view. Most of my lectures and the discussion sessions were tape recorded and transferred to CDs. I found the teaching experience quite rewarding. At the concluding session, they gave me some positive feedback of support, so I believe we had a good mutual relationship

Class assignments were required to follow the plan provided by UWI with respect to what had been approved by the higher administration for this new course.

We also held a few class exercises. Two especially stand out: The "dialogue design" required each student to organize a plan along Yankelovich's The Magic of Dialogue, for getting people of Trinidad together on the crime problem, produced a number of creative ideas. The other, at the final class session, required small groups of students to construct a Conflict Resolution Practitioner Oath along the lines of the Hippocratic Oath taken by Medical Professionals. Some of the phrasing was truly stunning, poetic.

- Karen A. Feste