As a first-year law student, I was only a few months into my training in alternative dispute resolution (ADR) when the grand jury decisions on the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Gardner were announced. I had spent the last several months with Harvard Negotiators, a student practice organization focused on ADR, learning about active listening, relationship-building, and peaceful resolution, but I suddenly found myself in the middle of protests shouting “No justice! No peace!”
I began to question whether I could simultaneously be a student of ADR and be active in these issues. I knew that the methods of ADR are effective in finding solutions to conflict, but I heard the pain and anger around me calling for disruption. Protesters marching through the streets, shutting down buildings, and stopping traffic could not seem further from the negotiation table. I felt like I had a foot barely in both worlds. I had just started my training and scholarship in ADR so I was not fully knowledgeable in that field, but also, as a white female I was certainly not fully knowledgeable of the needs and issues facing affected minority populations. Activism seeks to cause discomfort, demonstrate opposition, and highlight differences while ADR seeks to facilitate a collective approach that focuses on shared interests and goals. Were ADR and activism irreconcilable? Or could they somehow work together to solve these deep-rooted societal issues?
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