“I write with the fundamental belief that the problems created by humanity can be solved by humanity.”
This note from my mother, at some point, became my mantra after a childhood laced with her stories of the Nigerian civil war, forced migration, and famine. There is a sort of ever-gnawing “it doesn’t have to be this way” ethos that has guided many of my life’s choices. And still, at some point before law school but after high school graduation, these words had hollowed. Penned so often and repeated with such frequency, it seemed they had shed their sincerity. I believed these words in theory but had no clue what they meant in practice. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, HNMCP (and a Google search) gave these words a newfound meaning.
I appreciate that I am a bit of an anomaly amongst my peers in that the Negotiation Workshop was the reason I came to HLS. In fact, I remember the evening I decided not to forgo my acceptance after 3 years of deferring—I was skimming an article on peace-building and the Harvard Program on Negotiation was spotlighted. I, at the time wondering whether a three year postponement had made law school redundant, did a quick Google search for “Harvard Law Negotiation.” What I found, a simple website detailing the work of HNMCP, altered the trajectory of my academic career. It was not until I was sitting in the UK scrolling the HNMCP website that I realized that there was a community of people dedicated not only to the study but to the practice of conflict resolution. I realized that I was not alone in believing that it did not have to be this way—we could peaceably and elegantly resolve the conflicts we caused.
I came to HLS hoping to close the gap between dispute resolution theory and practice. The Spring 2014 Negotiation Workshop was my first step in narrowing this gap. It was here that I was pushed to not only hone my negotiating skills but to question the tacit assumptions that shaped me as a negotiator: What does it mean to “win”? Can one be both empathetic and assertive? What is the role of relationships in reaching an agreement? The Workshop proved to be more than a rigorous academic endeavor. It was here that I began to revisit my once hollow mantra. Conflict resolution morphed from a possibility to a process. Conflict resolution was, in fact, an art and there was a community of people seeking to master it.
After the Workshop, eager to fully engage with this community, I enrolled in The Lawyer as Facilitator (LAF) class and the Negotiation and Mediation Clinic in the Fall of 2014 and served as a Teaching Assistant for the Negotiation Workshop in the Spring of 2015. The clinic and LAF worked in tandem to buttress that which I had begun to explore in the Workshop. In LAF I was encouraged to both develop my facilitation skills and explore what made it difficult for me to employ said skills. As a member of the Clinic I worked on a fascinating curriculum design project, supervised by Professor Bordone, and began to re-engage with concepts that I had learned but not yet taught. Ultimately, delivering a negotiation and conflict resolution training for Seeds of Peace (the culmination of my work in the clinic) and serving as a Teaching Assistant for the Negotiation Workshop were professionally and personally transformative. It was in these moments that I came to appreciate the power of facilitation, the potentiality of collective brilliance, and the sheer joy of teaching.
HNMCP has created a unique space at HLS for which I am eternally grateful. It is, without question, a context in which skills are honed, assumptions are challenged, and rigorous academic work is done. And still, in a larger setting where all of that is commonplace, what makes HNMCP unique is its underbelly of hope. Underneath HNMCP’s work, is a hope that is neither idealistic nor naïve but grounded in study, process, and precision. In this paradigm, student and faculty are allowed to collectively re-imagine conflict, unearth well-designed solutions, and believe that the problems we create we can also solve. Thank goodness for that Google search.