Almost a year after the Community Planning Committee (CPG) organized small group discussions in part as a response to the controversy sparked by The Good Samaritan, Kenyon administrators are developing new tactics for conflict resolution.
A group of faculty, administrators and one student will travel to Chicago in early March to attend a three-day Academy Initiative sponsored by the Divided Community Project, and dedicated to generating a variety of conflict-resolution skills and community practices.
The Divided Community Project, located at The Ohio State University (OSU) Moritz College of Law, was created in April 2015 for conflict-resolution practitioners to assist communities facing with tensions, unrest and civil discord.
“We’ve been brainstorming ever since we got the recommendations from the various small groups that met in April [about] what is it that we can do at Kenyon to continue those conversations in some way,” Vice President of Student Affairs Meredith Harper Bonham ’92 said. “And [we] realized that we need a few more tools in our box in order to figure out how to engage in difficult dialogues and help Kenyon be even better.”
Ombudsperson Carrie Knell said that small groups organized by the CPG led to an influx of new initiatives.
“I think [the small group conversations] gave ideas and a foundation for the things that have been spearheaded throughout this year,” Knell said. “So from those conversations, the Kenyon Listens idea, this Divided Community Project has a momentum and an interest to fulfill those things.”
The College found out about the Project from Jim Tull ’85, an alum who works in conflict management and planning. According to Knell, Tull had heard about the controversies that took place last spring and suggested that Kenyon look into the Divided Community Project before the beginning of the school year.
Bonham, Knell and Associate Provost for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Ted Mason reached out to the Divided Community Project last fall.
“They really were very supportive of our application to the Divided Community Project, because it does seem to me that a lot of other types of entities like municipalities, police forces will be there,” Bonham said. “But it doesn’t seem, at least on the surface, that there would be a lot of colleges or universities represented.”
The programming includes conversations with individuals experienced in responding to civil unrest and hate incidents, methods for framing difficult conversations, as well as a public engagement process for addressing civil conflicts. The Academy Initiative will end with participants determining future steps they can take.
Knell said that the focus of the Academy Initiative is both forward-looking and constructive. “[The idea is] prevention and building skills,” Knell said. “But also coming with a plan for when it [conflict] does happen or how to deal with it campus-wide.”
Bonham hopes that the College’s involvement in the Academic Initiative will lead to an increase in community dialogue. “I would like people to have an understanding at Kenyon that we are trying to have what are often fraught discussions, and do so in an educational and productive manner,” she said. “Because I think that teaching all of us, including our students, how to do that will serve people well not just at Kenyon, but in their lives outside of Kenyon as well.”