Editorial: A welcome gift, invitation


Middlebury College’s recent gift of a $25 million grant to pursue its ongoing work in conflict transformation couldn’t have come at a better time. As Middlebury College Professor of Psychology Michelle McCauley said in a front-page story in today’s Addison Independent, “We are in a moment where we are polarized on so many separate issues. So helping all of us begin to practice working and talking across this is exciting.” 

The grant will create the Kathryn Wasserman Davis Collaborative in Conflict Transformation of which McCauley will be the Acting Executive Director.

Conflicts to address naturally jump to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and NATO’s response; to China’s role in world affairs; other armed conflicts throughout the world, and the domestic conflict between Democrats and Republicans in the era of Donald Trump and his use of lies and misinformation to drive a GOP narrative. But there are also the everyday conflicts that communities, states and regions address on a routine basis. Learning how to navigate all those conflicts, to develop the necessary skill sets, will be part of the organization’s objective.

“The whole point of conflict transformation is that conflict is part of the human experience and it will always be present,” Middlebury College President Laurie Patton told the Independent, adding that the process asks questions such as: “How do we live and learn with conflict in the public square, on the ground, and how do we build skills in the 21st Century to do that?”

Importantly, the work the college intends to pursue involves the community in important ways, including through the Middlebury College Center for Community Engagement (CCE) and its development of student-community relationships. Another venue is the newly created Conflict Transformation Lab for Learning and Practice, which develops models for conflict transformation at the community level, and then shares them nationally and internationally.

Community members are encouraged to add their insights. “There’s so much educational value in a vibrant relationship between a college and its town,” Patton said. “This is an opportunity to tap into that relationship to improve education and improve the world.” 

For those interested, that’s a welcome invitation. Read the full story, go to the college’s website for more information, and contribute. There’s no more important skill-set needed to face today’s contentious world.

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