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Conflict Resolution Workshop Benefits Patriots and Participants

February 15, 2016   /   by Buzz McClain

Mason facilitators (from left) Leslie Dwyer, Alex Cromwell and Nawal Rajeh (not pictured, Sarah Federman) with members of the group Tuesday's Children at a conflict resolution workshop. Photo provided.

They are young adults now, but on Sept. 11, 2001, they were children when their parents perished in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In early January, eight members of the nonprofit Tuesday’s Children and its affiliated Project Common Bond participated in four days of workshops on the Arlington Campus at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, to learn peace-building skills intended to “counter the narrative of violent terrorism,” according to Deirdre Dolan of Tuesday’s Children. 

But the participants were not the only ones who learned about conflict and healing that day. We asked three of the Mason facilitators to discuss the experience’s impact on them. 

Sarah Federman, PhD Conflict Analysis and Resolution ’15, was a mentor in the workshops.

Most surprising: “Two college-age women told me about how over the years a number of people asked them if they hated Muslims, felt anger or wanted revenge. Both said, ‘I didn't even understand their question. Why would I hate those people?’ One went on to say, ‘Sometimes it seems like they tried to use me to justify their own hatred.’ She doesn't allow it. If these young people are not filled with revenge and hatred, why should America be? 

Impact on participants: “The workshops provided the participants the opportunity to reflect on who they are and what they want.”

Impact on Federman: “We often try to fill students up, but they already have so much wisdom within them that just needs the space to be expressed.”

Alex Cromwell, PhD candidate in Conflict Analysis and Resolution, was a facilitator.

“I facilitated sessions on the meaning of peace and conflict, conflict styles, a session on self-awareness and managing emotions and one on listening skills. I also co-facilitated the opening sessions and the debrief sessions.  

“These sessions were mostly designed to help [the participants] become better at resolving conflicts in their own lives and also think about how they could learn how to radiate with peace in whatever they do, realizing that peace starts from within all of us. We wanted them to see how they can become peacemakers in any future field that they choose to work in.”

Most surprising: “Getting to know them helped me realize how much depth they have, and it humanized them for me. There is so much more to each of them than the trauma they experienced.”

Impact on participants: “They see new possibilities for how they can create peace in their day-to-day lives, whether it is with their friends or across international boundaries. Their listening and mindfulness skills have developed and they are more aware of how their perception can fuel conflict and how to prevent this from happening.”

Impact on Cromwell: “Conflict can make people stronger. These young people are some of the strongest, most committed people that I have ever met. They are curious and seek to understand conflict so that they can change it. Their trauma has made them more caring and committed to helping the suffering of others.” 

Nawal Rajeh, a PhD student in conflict analysis and resolution, was a facilitator.

Most surprising: “I was really impressed by how the participants were so engaged in the entire process and how well they worked together as a group.”

Impact on students: “Many of the participants expressed that they had gained a lot of confidence in their inter-personal conflict skills as well as a deeper understanding of their own conflict styles,” Rajeh said. They also appreciated learning the different potential applications of a degree in conflict resolution.

Impact on Rajeh: “Being a part of this event helped me to gain a deeper appreciation for the ways in which personal stories can be leveraged and use as a powerful tool for peace work as well as group solidarity.”

Leslie Dwyer, professor at the School for Conflict for Analysis and Resolution, organizer and lead faculty member. 

Most surprising: “I was inspired by the participants’ commitments to transforming personal tragedies into work toward peace,” Dwyer said. “The students spoke eloquently about just how hard it was for them not only to have their personal grief made public, but to have the deaths of their family members so often used as a justification for intolerance and hatred.”

Impact on participants: “These youth knew they wanted to turn their experiences into positive work for peace, but they didn't yet have the tools to do so. By spending time at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, where we specialize in developing both theoretical frameworks and practical approaches, participants were able to come away with a much clearer sense of the pathways available to them, as well as new skills of analysis, dialogue and problem-solving.” 

Impact on Dwyer: “We often think that conflicts end when a peace agreement is reached, or when an armed threat is over. Working with these youth underscored just how long-lasting the effects of conflict can be—and conversely, how peace work has a multiplier effect.”