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In this issue: Letter from AC4 Research Coordinator Alessandra Radicati, Interview with Claudia Cohen, IACM Scholarships and more!
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Providing you with the latest news in conflict, violence prevention, peace and sustainability at Columbia University

A Note from Our Research Coordinator, Alessandra Radicati



Thank you for tuning again to the AC4 Monthly Newsletter.  I’m certainly not the first person to take issue with TS Eliot’s assertion that April is the cruelest month.  For me, it has always been February or March; this is the season of deadlines, projects and demands, and this year in particular I have been feeling as if it’s impossible to juggle all my different tasks.  I’m sure I’m not alone. 

However, in the midst of stress there can be rare moments of reflection, occasions for thinking about the bigger picture.  Along with the AC4 team, I was lucky enough to experience one such event when I heard Nobel Peace Laureate, Leymah Gbowee, speak here at Columbia last week.  Together with the World Leaders Forum, AC4 co-sponsored this event in which Ms. Gbowee delivered her address “True Leadership Requires Accountability: The Way Forward for New African Leadership”.  Ms. Gbowee’s talk addressed the problems of corruption and lack of accountability in Africa, but it contained some important wisdom about relationships between Africa and the west, as well as relationships between men and women in any society. Alternating between personal memories and commentary on larger themes about the politics of peacebuilding and development, Ms. Gbowee described how grassroots activism is a full-time job, one that requires unwavering dedication.  She encouraged the audience to be humble when engaging in development work, and not assume that we have all the answers.  She advised women to become “forces to be reckoned with” in order to make a difference in their chosen fields.  Hearing Ms. Gbowee speak was a rare honor and a chance to think about many different themes in my own life in a new way.  Judging by the standing ovation she received at the end of her address, I think that others in the audience were equally moved.

Last week proved to be a significant one for AC4; in addition to welcoming the inspirational Ms. Gbowee to our campus, we also hosted our 2nd Annual Conflict Resolution Internship Fair.  The internship fair featured organizations working in all areas of conflict resolution, and provided them a chance to connect with students from Columbia and other New York area universities.  We were delighted to have nearly 200 people in attendance, and we look forward to a similarly exciting event next year.

Best Wishes,

Alessandra





Interview with Dr. Claudia Cohen, Associate Director of the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution (ICCCR)


How did you become interested in conflict resolution? Can you give us a brief description of the path you’ve taken since deciding to enter the field, up until now?
Even as a child, nothing was more fascinating to me than human behavior, especially the differences between individuals, groups and cultures and how they were reconciled… often destructively, it seemed.  I was horrified and yet compelled by stories of injustice and felt that I needed to comprehend how people who benefitted from privilege and power could treat others in ways that damaged their dignity – sometimes with brutality.  In college, I was drawn to social psychology, with its theories  and methodologies for better understanding “man’s inhumanity to man.”  My Ph.D. dissertation on the cognitive bases of stereotyping demonstrated in a powerful way the extent that culturally-based cognitive “schemas” can fundamentally distort our perceptions of others. This suggested to me that common psychological processes might underlie a manager’s casual cruelty to a low-power subordinate… and the systematic oppression of people based upon race or religion (e.g., slavery in the U.S.; the Holocaust in Europe), though at different levels and with different degrees of impact.  Haney, Banks & Zimbardo’s  (1973)  study, demonstrating how playing the role of a prison guard in a simulated prison setting led average college undergraduates to commit dramatic abuses of power, seemed evidence of common processes.

Fast forwarding a few years, I left academia, looking for a more applied setting in which to understand and possibly interrupt the destructive wielding of interpersonal power .  I became an organization development consultant at a large corporation; believe me, there were plenty of instances where low-power actors felt that their dignity was compromised by the corporate culture and the behavior of its leaders.  Meanwhile, in the 1990s, the field of conflict resolution was growing.  I was attracted to the practice of mediation, seeing it as a process through which a third party can support the constructive, possibly equitable resolution of difference.  My study of mediation and also integrative negotiation led me to providing facilitation for dispute resolution sessions (between managers/subordinates, in intact work groups, etc.) and to conflict coaching with individuals. I promoted the knowledge, skills and self-awareness that would allow participants to behave more constructively in conflicts, or as Morton Deutsch would say, with less “bungling.”

Along the way, when struggling with some work- family issues after the birth of my first child, I used the services of  a corporate Ombudsman. She helped me see how to frame my interests and needs so that I could propose a solution to my boss, one that would preserve my dignity while clearly supporting the interests (e.g., mission, culture, bottom line) of the organization.  Eventually, I lobbied for the creation of an additional Ombuds office in a sister organization—and was hired to fill the role, serving happily for many years.

Eventually I left the corporate world, in order to work with nonprofit organizations, especially with human rights and peace building missions, whose values were closer to my own. Despite organizational missions to promote peace and justice, I was disappointed to realize that the staff was no more skilled in cooperation and conflict management within their organization than were their corporate peers.   In addition to consulting, I grew my civil court mediation practice and continued teaching: conflict resolution, organization change, management and leadership, emotional intelligence.

Then, a chance encounter with a former colleague (at a mediation conference) led to the rekindling of my research interests; and I began to collaborate with him on a complex, qualitative study of mediator style.  When my current position (the Associate Director of the ICCCR) became available, I knew it was a perfect opportunity for me:  serving a venerable organization, one founded upon cutting edge research in cooperation, conflict resolution and social justice, that promotes the integration of theory with practice as it educates the next generation of conflict scholar-practitioners.

You’ve had quite a varied career. Do you feel that there was a turning point – a specific job, or a particular life decision - that you credit with bringing you to where you are today, or that was the most meaningful for you?
My role as a corporate Ombudsman was particularly satisfying and challenging.  A couple of things made it stand out.  First,  because I had personally benefitted from using the Ombuds office, it was gratifying to be able to offer the important service to others.  In addition, I had proposed the creation of a new Ombuds office.  My boss agreed to a six-month trial period to determine if the office met the needs of employees and the organization;  I served in the role for more than five years.  I also loved the elements of the job: a combination of supporting individuals with feedback that is both empathetic and practical, and of providing the organizational leadership team with information on systemic challenges; strategies for promoting the dignified treatment of employees, leading to productivity and commitment;  and opportunities for organizational growth.

Do you believe the field of conflict resolution has changed significantly since you began your career? If so, how?
Absolutely.  First, it has grown tremendously over the last thirty years.  This is borne out in the greater number of conflict and dispute resolution programs at colleges and universities and the increased prevalence of Ombuds offices in organizations.  The study of cooperation, conflict and constructive resolution is situated across a variety of disciplines, and I believe the awareness of this breadth of knowledge has grown.  However, we have not yet developed robust processes for integrating knowledge and understanding across disciplines. Many barriers to interdisciplinary collaboration remain, including the culture and reward structure of academia, and the processes through which new knowledge is disseminated.  Mining the potential for effective interdisciplinary collaboration is a challenge for conflict scholars and practitioners of the next generation to continue.

What advice or pointers do you have for young professionals and/or students looking to advance in their careers? What specific career advice do you have for people in this field (conflict resolution, violence prevention, sustainable peace, etc.) that may be distinct from more general career advice?
First, as in other careers, I think it is vital to gain an understanding of the landscape of the field.  Because it is such a multidisciplinary field (e.g., psychology, law, political science, security, business and more) visualizing the landscape can be particularly challenging. Identify some more experienced professionals and ask to do an “informational” interview.  Find out what they do, what they read and what organizations they belong to.  Second, identify your skills and your passions.  Conflict scholars and practitioners are often deeply committed to the reduction of human suffering; what do you feel “drawn” toward?   And, finally, the field is relatively young and professional roles for conflict resolvers are not always well-defined.  Volunteer work (with community mediation centers or international aid organizations) can help build your resume.  And, look for an opportunity to identify the need for a position… and propose it!  Developing the job description gives you a powerful edge when it comes to filling it!
 

Student Scholarships to IACM

Each year, the Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict, and Complexity (AC4) offers funding to students from historically underrepresented groups and students from developing countries to present their research at the IACM Annual Conference.  Scholarship recipients are expected to attend an AC4-Sponsored reception at the conference.  Applicants must have had an abstract accepted to the annual IACM annual conference and submit a copy as part of their application process.  More details about the scholarship program are available here.

The application deadline is April 15, 2013.

Questions may be directed to Alessandra Radicati at aradicati@ei.columbia.edu



AC4 2nd Annual Conflict Resolution Internship Fair Was a Success!

AC4 held its 2nd Annual Conflict Resolution Internship Fair on Thursday, February 21.  Held in Alfred Lerner Hall, the event was a true success, bringing together nearly 200 students and organization representatives from the New York area.  In addition to organizations providing information about internship opportunities, the event also featured a special panel of ACR-GNY young professionals, who met with students to discuss their career goals and ambitions and provide guidance about the field of conflict resolution.  Students who participated in the internship fair had the chance to take part in a raffle with prizes including a lunch with AC4 Directors Beth Fisher-Yoshida and Peter Coleman, or resume editing advice from the AC4 staff.  Winners will be announced soon.  AC4 sends a warm thank you to all the organizations and students who attended, and looks forward to an equally vibrant event next year. 

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Upcoming Events


3/7
How to Talk About Our Work in Conflict Resolution
6pm to 8pm, Mudd Hall, Columbia University

4/11
Deutsch Awards
6pm to 8pm, Grace Dodge Hall, Teachers College

4/15
IACM Scholarship Application Deadline
5pm, Interchurch Center Suite 253

Have You Visited AC4 Link?

AC4 Link is a new web-based information hub that highlights all people, centers, and programs conducting research, practice, and teaching activities related to conflict resolution, peace, violence prevention, and sustainable development related to these areas. If you are looking for a person, program, or center conducting specific work under these areas, this is a great place to start. If you are already active under one of these areas, check out your profile and learn about others across Columbia that share your interests. Please contact Nick Redding at nredding@ei.columbia.edu if you have any questions or would like to learn more.

Career Advice

Have Career Advice to Share?
AC4 is looking for faculty, staff and alums of Columbia’s conflict resolution and peace related programs to contribute career advice and give their unique perspectives on how to navigate the job market after graduation.  We are interested in hearing your personal story, lessons you learned from interviewing and job-seeking and insight into career you have currently.  We welcome a variety of voices and experiences, so please contact Christianna Gozzi (cgozzi@ei.columbia.edu) or Alessandra Radicati (aradicati@ei.columbia.edu) and you could be featured in the next AC4 monthly newsletter!
Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict, and Complexity (AC4)
475 Riverside Drive, Suite 253
New York, NY 10115
(212) 870-2771
ac4.ei.columbia.edu