The students at the University of Nebraska College of Law were interested in seeing additional programming in areas such as cultural competency, diversity, and access to justice. Responding to those ideas, the student-led initiative received support and coordination from the Law College’s administration and faculty, which led to the creation of Community Justice Week. Programs during the course of the week include additional information on pro bono opportunities, a movie night, a panel on human trafficking, and – the event that I was most interested in – the first ever ComCon, or Community Conversations.

Community Conversations are small group conversations to talk about differences and diversity in our lives and at the Law College in a safe, non-judgmental environment. Over one-third of the student body signed up for this non-mandatory event, and the student organizers recruited twelve faculty members to help guide the conversations.

As Jen Reynolds’s previous post on this topic showed, the students thought long and hard about how these conversations should occur. I brainstormed with them on ways to encourage participation and the format for the program. The students and faculty agreed on ground rules for the conversation, such as being respectful and giving everyone the right to join the conversation. The students created prompt questions, but because each group would have roughly 45 minutes, for the conversation, groups would likely only discuss a handful of questions.

In my group, we focused on three issues: 1) the positive and negatives things about being “you” at the Law College, 2) sharing stores in which we found ourselves to be minorities, and 3) discussing times when we have purposefully hidden part of our identity from others. Overall, I was surprised at the level and quality of participation. All of the students in my small group bought into the process, and I hope that they felt “heard.” We talked about issues of identity, culture, and diversity, even though most of us in the room had never met before. In a closing question, I asked them what they would take away from the hour – and they responded with sentiments such as “hope,” and “community.”

Other faculty administrators reported positive group meetings and a hope that we continue to keep these issues in the forefront.

I cannot express how proud I am of the students for finding this idea and then putting it into practice. I’m grateful to be a part of it and to have helped them create a process that led to fantastic community conversations.

Jennifer Reynolds is an Assistant Professor at the University of Oregon Law and the Faculty Director of the ADR Center. Teaching civil procedure, conflicts of law, negotiation, and mediation, her research interests include dispute systems design, problem-solving in multiparty scenarios, judicial attitudes toward ADR, and cultural influences and implications of alternative processes. She is also a contributor to ADR Prof Blog.