Conflict Transformation at the CCE

As you may have heard, Middlebury College recently received a $25 million grant to support Conflict Transformation initiatives. This grant, which will be deployed over a seven-year period, will create the Kathryn Wasserman Davis Collaborative in Conflict Transformation which seeks to encourage faculty, staff, and students to engage in conflict transformation work around the globe. This collaborative will bring together every branch of the Middlebury network, including the Center for Community Engagement, to lead a global consortium of colleges and universities striving towards better understanding and practicing conflict transformation.

So, first things first, what is conflict transformation? Conflict transformation is an approach to conflict that understands that conflict is a normal, continuous, and dynamic part of the human experience. Rather than trying to avoid or resolve conflict, this approach enables us to see conflict as an opportunity to strengthen relationships, organizations, communities, and societies. By addressing the root causes of conflict, like historical contexts and systemic issues that lead to hostilities, conflict transformation seeks to create attitudes, structures, and systems that can respond to conflict – when it inevitably occurs –  in a meaningful way, without violence or harm. Conflict transformation also takes a broad view of conflict, and therefore the transformative principles incorporate diverse disciplines.  Given that there are a myriad of contexts in which conflict occurs, the practice of conflict transformation can look very different depending on the circumstances. In some cases, conflict transformation might take the form of encouraging educational access through tutoring and mentorship programs. In other circumstances, transformation might look like holding restorative justice circles to bring together disagreeing communities to engage in productive dialogue. 

The Center for Community Engagement (CCE) is honored to support students, faculty, and staff who are interested in creating new conflict transformation initiatives, or incorporating the principles of conflict transformation into established programs. Ashley Laux ‘06, Director of the Center for Community Engagement shared: 

“The Collaborative in Conflict Transformation will deepen support for Middlebury College students who are already engaging in local and global communities through coursework, volunteering, activism, and internships. Skills and knowledge development around navigating conflict are a critical component of ethical, engaged citizenship. I’m particularly excited for the possibility of expanded networks and connections in this work. Intentionally bringing more community organizations and community members into our programs in Conflict Transformation will strengthen collaborative relationships here in Vermont and around the globe.” 

At the CCE, we’re embracing the idea that conflict is a natural part of human relationships and is an opportunity to make constructive changes in ourselves, our relationships, our campus, our organizations, and our communities. We strive to develop our own and our students’ awareness of conflict and the way it can manifest in communities, and to help develop the skills necessary for envisioning and implementing positive change. 

In the coming year, the Center for Community Engagement is excited to incorporate peace-building practices into already existing programs while piloting new initiatives. This summer, the Privilege & Poverty internship program will adopt a conflict transformation practice by adding a restorative practices training for the intern cohort. This program aims to support students in developing their interpersonal skills when responding to harm and recognize how to respond to the causes of harm rather than the symptoms. Additionally, summer language programs like the History in Translation program and Jiran (جيران) will continue their peace-building work by recognizing the importance of language as a means of building relationships and intercultural dialogue. Through the Collaborative in Conflict Transformation, the CCE will also be launching new initiatives in the coming year and supporting students, faculty, and staff as they explore the multitude of ways to create a more just and peaceful world. 

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