RECONCILING CAMPUS CONFLICT


Even on a college campus, interpersonal problems, if not dealt with quickly and adequately, can escalate into violence.
Bob Agnew, professor of sociology and past director of the program in violence studies


Reconciliation
The problem of defining Emory's most elusive year

Reconciling Faculty Roles
A conversation with John Banja, clinical ethicist at the Center for Ethics in Public Policy and the Professions

Intellectual Content on the Conference Table

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The Academic Exchange How will the workshop following the symposium session on restorative justice be relevant to Emory?

Professor Bob Agnew The workshop will focus on something closely related to restorative justice--conflict resolution--here on the Emory campus for faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, and staff. Very often when there's a problem here--between students in the dorms, among faculty within their departments, or between faculty and the administration--people don't sit down and talk with one another. Instead, the situation remains unresolved or emotional energy is invested in formal complaints, even lawsuits. In many cases, teaching people the skills to sit down and resolve conflicts informally would be much better. Campus life is already training some students in conflict resolution and placing them in the dorm system. I understand the staff are moving in that direction too.

AE Considering last year's violence in schools, the recent murder of an Arkansas professor by a graduate student, and generally high levels of frustration among faculty and students, do you think violence is graduating from high school and going to college?

BA Most of the problems here at Emory are not violent conflicts. But even on a college campus, interpersonal problems, if not dealt with quickly and adequately, can escalate into violence. And campus life representatives tell me that it's their perception that many students seem to have lost the desire or skills to sit down and resolve problems, to talk it out, among themselves. So campus life is receiving more formal complaints of conflicts between students, and many complaints are escalating beyond the point that they should.

AE Beyond the Reconciliation Symposium panel, do you see other ways the daily work of violence studies offers a window onto reconciliation in academic life?

BA Violence studies tries both to bring together the differing academic approaches to violence and to reconcile academic work with community efforts to reduce violence. We bring together over seventy faculty from across the university. Some are from places you'd expect like law, sociology, and public health. But there are also people from literature, history, and pediatrics, researching topics like child abuse, for instance. We bring these people together to share their scholarship as a sort of first step in promoting interdisciplinary research and teaching.

We really have not experienced any problems in this process. Faculty have been eager to learn about the research of their colleagues. I think they've taken the view that theirs is just one piece in the larger puzzle and that they can benefit from broadening their perspective. And we're starting to see some pay-off in terms of courses and research projects that are taking hold.

Violence studies also stresses community work, with the idea that we have much to offer organizations in the larger community and much to learn from them, as well. Every violence study minor does an internship with an organization designed to prevent violence. Our hope is that they'll not only apply what they learned but critically evaluate it. Relating class materials to practice is not always easy, but it's an essential part of the violence studies minor. And, in fact, we've generally found our students eager to serve the larger community.

Many of the faculty are also very committed to community work through research projects aimed at reducing violence. Others do volunteer work but, again, this is not an easy process. We're struggling to publish, teach, and meet academic and professional service requirements. So the idea that we should serve the larger community can present a challenge. Where do I find the time? How relevant is my work? How do I go about doing this? To what extent will the university support and recognize it? These are just some of the conflicts in academic work begging for reconciliation.