Dear SPS Faculty,
I was recently asked to give a presentation at the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana (UPB) in Medellín, Colombia, by colleagues who are involved in the conflict transformation fieldwork I am doing. They have a nascent conflict resolution program there and they are reading the work of some of my colleagues and asked if I would give a talk on the history of conflict resolution at Columbia University. It was my pleasure to do so and I approached it by telling stories of my work with Morton Deutsch, Peter Coleman, the founding of the NECR program at SPS and the consortium, AC4.
I decided to share this rich history by telling stories. I always liked hearing stories about people and the cultural and social dynamics of their time to set the context, to humanize them and their theories, and I thought that could be my contribution in situating the conflict resolution the students were learning. As is often the case I find, that while in the effort to contribute I also receive. The time trajectory started in the 1940s through the lens of Morton Deutsch and his experiences during WWII, the NECR program, and AC4, and where we see ourselves headed. Then hearing the questions and reflections from the students made it a rewarding experience to demonstrate how theory and practice work together, and reinforced the roots of the theories that influence my approach to the work I do in the classroom and in the field.
It reminded me of one of the requirements of the comps I needed to complete while doing my doctorate. I needed to create the map of my theoretical journey and identify the major influences that shape who I am today as a person and professional. It was fun to do that exercise because it highlighted the ways in which I was consistent and how I also changed. Understanding these connections was one of the reasons I decided to return to school for my doctorate. I strongly believe that this theory-practice trajectory is one of the contributions we can make with our students as well. Things do not happen in isolation and being able to explicitly make these connections helps students to see the story and path of how this all fits together for them and how it informs the disciplines of their fields. I think we can help create stronger scholar-practitioners in this way and the journey has to begin with us first.