Linda and Frank Kurtz (center) attend Professor Chen's workshop
Students Justyn Morena (left) and Josette Marsh (right) with Professor Victoria Chen (center)
In 2017 Frank and Linda attended a large SF State event called “Collaboration Through Differences: Campus Dialogue”. The event was organized by Professor Victoria Chen of the Communication Studies Department, in partnership with the 80 students enrolled in her class “Dialogue Across Difference”. Moved by the positive approach towards managing conflict that they saw in this event, they began talking with Professor Chen about creating smaller intensive workshops for students on campus.
The result is a day-long conflict management workshop which has now been offered to students twice. It is designed to give students from all campus disciplines a useful theoretical perspective on conflict and differences, and concrete skills in creating positive dialogue, engaging with differences in others, and facilitating difficult dialogue. Students learn to use “systemic questioning” and other models of facilitating and building dialogue and community.
The reactions from student participants have been overwhelmingly positive. Economics major Julie Kim felt the effects right away, “At work, I was able to practice what I learned. I intern at a non-profit that uses mediation as a form of conflict resolution. Clients call with high stress, and I must diffuse and ground clients by validating their feelings and restating their sentences. Overall, the workshop has been very helpful.”
Students Josette Marsh, Shanice Watson and Andrea Romero-Flores (left to right)
Students Tyler Ayers-Nusbaum, Justyn Moreno, Dellena Kinkles and Patrick Boyle (left to right)
“It was incredible to see [Professor Chen] find commonalities between disagreeing parties and tie them back together to have a productive conversation. The parties don't have to end up agreeing or changing their views, but at least they feel that they have been listened to." —Patrick Boyle
Patrick Boyle, a Decision Science Major & Information Systems Minor in the College of Business was particularly impressed with Victoria’s facilitation of the workshop, “It was incredible to see her find commonalities between disagreeing parties and tie them back together to have a productive conversation. The parties don't have to end up agreeing or changing their views, but at least they feel that they have been listened to."
Linda and Frank’s hope is that the workshop participants will carry what they learn out into their own circle of friends, colleagues, and families. “Our intent is to give students the general skills of critical thinking and dialogue, so that they can empower others and improve the whole climate at San Francisco State University,” says Linda.
Frank and Linda would like to sponsor more conflict management workshops in the future, and are working with the College of Liberal and Creative Arts to continue the program. “It’s a small step but it’s something that is within our means to support,” says Frank. “We’ve been highly impressed with two groups of students so far who participated in the workshop…we are hopeful that over time this will become more and more visible and the number of students that will be able to participate will continue over time.”