Graduate Students with “Soft Hearts and Hard Heads” Converge for Conflict Studies Conference

Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance | October 24, 2012
Graduate Students with “Soft Hearts and Hard Heads” Converge for Conflict Studies Conference

UMass Boston’s Conflict Resolution Graduate Program recently hosted "Conflict Studies: The New Generation of Ideas," a conference that brought together students from all over the world to share ideas, learn from one another, and participate in a variety of career-building activities and discussions. A biennial event initiated in 1996, this year’s conference brought more than 120 participants from 13 countries and 46 universities to the Harbor Point campus on October 19 and 20. Eighty authors presented 77 papers on topics such as environmental and natural resources, identity, law and justice, education and training, media and conflict, women and conflict, human rights, and language and communication.

“Conflict work is hard to do,” said Eben Weitzman, chair of the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies. “Whether we’re talking about a case in small claims court, a fight over a child’s special education plan, a struggle over the direction of a family-owned business, a battle between departments in an corporation, a conflict over workers’ rights, a war, a genocide, or a racist society, we are almost always dealing with people’s pain, and their fear of it.”

“My mentor, Morton Deutsch, used to say what we need in this field is people with soft hearts and hard heads,” Weitzman continued. “If you work to resolve conflict, chances are you do it because you care about something enough to do challenging work. That’s good. The world needs more people like you.  Here’s the tricky part:  It’s good to be a ‘softie’. It’s good to let your caring and your compassion drive your work. But, once you settle on a problem, you have to think carefully, clearly, deeply, and systematically about the problem you’re trying to solve. You have to hold yourself to high standards. You have to subject your work to rigorous tests, whether it’s empirical research or practice in the field. Finally, you have to be willing to accept answers you don’t like. Because as much as the world needs more people who care, what the world needs even more is people who care, and who also have what it takes to do something about the things they care about.”

For students and alumni such as Lisette Smith, an alumna of the Conflict Resolution Certificate Program and head of family business mediation at MWI in Boston, the conference presents an opportunity to learn about new views, approaches, and skills needed in conflict studies. Smith delivered a presentation on “Mediation as a Business Partnership." When asked about the value of this conference, she explained that she wanted to gain “new views, new approaches, new skills."

Tim Kennedy, a graduate of George Mason University with a master’s degree in conflict analysis and resolution, summed up the feeling of many conference attendees: "The conference gave conflict resolution practitioners the opportunity to expand our understanding and knowledge of the field of conflict resolution, to network with like-minded graduate students, professionals, and professors, and to promote conflict resolution education as a core component of every educational institution in the United States and throughout the world.” 

A highlight of the conference was a provocative keynote address by Professor Joshua S. Goldstein, based on his recently published book, Winning the War on War: The Decline of Armed Conflict Worldwide. According to the conference organizer, Associate Director Roni Lipton, “He challenged conventional wisdom by documenting a downward trend in armed conflict, while pointing out the opportunities and challenges faced by the world community to continue that trend.”

In addition to the scholarly presentations, the agenda included a career panel chaired by conflict resolution program founder David Matz. The participants included McCormack Graduate School faculty members Darren Kew, Maria Ivanova, and Michael Keating, and Brandeis faculty member Ted Johnson, who discussed a wide variety of career paths, ranging from academic careers to employment at the United Nations.

As Weitzman noted, the conference attracted passionate, motivated, and smart students yearning to learn new approaches to resolving conflict—“evidence that we’ve got a whole new generation of soft-hearted, hard-headed folks ready to make a difference in the world.”

Tags: conflict resolution , conflict studies

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