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Conflict Resolution - Peace Through Wisdom
Foreign ministers, heads of state, and security advisors are on Santa Clara University’s campus, engaged in negotiations and diplomatic talks. The foreign representatives haven’t received any fanfare, because they are actually SCU students assuming the roles of some of the world’s most important dignitaries.
These students are taking William Stover’s Introduction to International Relations and participating in his Conflict Resolution Simulation (CRS), which he developed and designed. CRS is an online, interactive, learning tool that allows students to create diplomatic scenarios. In other words, it’s an opportunity for students to become political actors by putting themselves in the position of leaders from other countries, nationalities, and political parties and by also putting them in real life situations such as the Middle East conflict.
“The simulation helps students transcend their ethnocentric attitudes and lets them practice empathy while they learn about the Middle East,” explained Stover, professor in the political science department.
Students choose countries to represent and select decision-making roles within their country. Before they begin the simulation, they must prepare by researching their region and roles and submitting a term paper.
“Before I took this class, I knew very little about the Middle East conflict or only knew about Israel’s position. Two weeks after doing my research and fully immersing myself in the simulation, I’ve become more sympathetic to the Palestinian people. I understand now that they do have a right to their land and not just the Israelis,” said Kimberly Aagard, a sophomore who is taking the role of the Palestinian foreign minister.
After the research is complete, the simulation begins online with students making diplomatic requests and actions. The students often consult with outside participants from the Middle East or the U.S., who are faculty, graduate students, or retired government officials who volunteer to help their team grasp the policies of the countries they represent.
Only one week into CRS, and some of the students have already become frustrated and stressed as though they were actually engaged in real-world negotiations.
“Some of the students were text messaging us telling us that we needed to recognize Palestine as a state,” said Lauren Elmets, a sophomore who is serving as an Israeli deputy foreign minister.
“You have to immerse yourself in the experience if you want to reap from it,” said Andrew Wagner, a junior participating as the Israeli defense minister.
Stover created CRS in 1973 as a paper-based method to teach negotiation. In 1999, he collaborated with SCU Information Technology to create a database-driven online platform capable of automating and disseminating the program for a wider audience.
Stover received a $35,000 grant this summer from the Foundation for Global Community for CRS to fund seven trips to the Middle East for the study and practice of conflict resolution.