Talking About Ferguson

ADR Prof Blog

We have started the last week of classes in ADR this week and usually, at this time in the semester, I turn to the overarching subject of how to counsel clients when choosing among different dispute resolution processes. I divide the class into small groups and ask them to pick a situation of mass harm–Katrina, BP Spill, other natural disasters or war or violence–and then think about how to design a process to handle this situation. Last night, I took a deep breath, and asked the class to think about the situation in Ferguson. [S/O to Nancy Welsh for forwarding an email from others encouraging law faculty to discuss Ferguson] So here is what I asked: How would you advise the parents of Michael Brown? How would you advise the mayor of Ferguson (or, for that matter, the mayor of Milwaukee since we have had similar incidents)? How would you advise the store owners whose property was vandalized? What processes should we create? What have we learned about conflict and conflict resolution that might be useful when we are faced with a real conflict?

I am sharing this because I was worried about doing this–am I the “right” person to discuss this? would the class discussion be respectful or harmful? how would students react? And I imagine that others of us, as we enter the last weeks of the semester, might also be hesitant to engage in a conflict that is so raw and so difficult for many.

Let me just say that the conversation was active and interesting. I teach 70 students at 7 p.m. at night and keeping them focused this semester has meant a lot of interactive and creative exercises. But last night might just have been the biggest leap of faith I have taken in a while.

And it was totally worth it–a student later emailed to thank me for raising such a difficult issue in a constructive manner As he put it, “so often people are afraid to address issues related to race and act as if nothing did not occur. …Thanks again as I could not have asked for a more timely and close to home subject matter.”

Happy to talk more if anyone wants more details on pedagogy. And this is my pitch to take the leap of faith and discuss the “real world.” Showing our students how to apply our tools to the biggest challenges of the day was well worth the risk.

                        author

Andrea Schneider

Before Andrea Kupfer Schneider even knew or understood the words negotiation or mediation, she figured a way to outsource her chores to her younger brother by paying him a part of her allowance.  Not a new trick, but noteworthy that she hit upon the idea naturally. Such is the somewhat… MORE >

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