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2016 Ralph Bunche Summer Institute Featured in WDET, Model D

Date: 9/9/2016

WDET's Amy Miller and Model D's Emell Adolphus interviewed Dr. Frederic Pearson and Barbara L. Jones of the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies as well as former and current Ralph Bunche students about their impressions and experiences with the Ralph Bunche Summer Institute.

Dispute Resolution Specialist Barbara Jones and former Ralph Bunche participant Tahmina Sultana discussed how the Ralph Bunche Institute offers a realistic alternative to violence and conflict with WDET's Amy Miller in a July 2016 interview.

Below is a selection from the Model D article "Keeping the peace: Wayne State program continues longtime work of youth conflict resolution" and select photographs documenting the 2016 Ralph Bunche Summer Institute experience:

 

"When Wayne State University's Center for Peace and Conflict Studies first opened its doors in 1965, American boots were fresh on the ground in the Vietnam War and Detroit was on the shortlist to host the next Olympic Games. Though Detroit was very different then, the Center's mission remains the same: to help keep the peace at home by increasing the nation's global perspective.

'We were among the first in the whole country to teach about war and peace, and we're among the first ever to train conflict resolution in schools,' explains Dr. Frederic Pearson, the third director of the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies in more than 50 years.

The Center hoped to disarm the period's increasing fears of international warfare by way of teaching about peace and conflict resolution. But a war was already brewing in its backyard, boiling over in the form of Detroit's 1967 riots. 

As the 50th anniversary of the riots - or rebellion, depending on who you ask - approaches next summer, the Center's work is as vital as ever.

Students in the 2016 Ralph Bunche Summer Institute roleplay as police officers at a workshop with the WSU Police Department

 

Originally founded as the Center for Teaching about War and Peace, the Center's role quickly expanded from curriculum to community outreach in Detroit Public Schools, training staff to teach students in peer mediation.

'Further along the way, still interested in international conflicts, we began to get more involved in settling local disputes - particularly racial and ethnic issues,' says Dr. Pearson. 

This included more work with civilians in schools and neighborhood outreach to negotiate cultural understanding between communities. Their work also included training police in conflict diversity. 'Police are often the touch point when urban unrest occurs and are often in the middle between the politicians and the public,' Dr. Pearson furthers. 

Harnessing the future, now.

In the Center's weeklong Ralph Bunche Summer Institute, students from high schools across metro Detroit learn that no matter how old you are, you can make a difference in the world. 

That motto helped Detroit County Day incoming junior Tyler Claxton see new potential in herself and Detroit's future. 

Tyler Claxton, 15, student at Detroit Country Day 

'I've only ever been to the part of Detroit where there are lights and everything is very new. Now that I've seen [the ways] you can help change the city, it gives me more hope,' Claxton says. 

Named after the first person of color to receive the Nobel Peace Prize and Detroit-native, Dr. Ralph J. Bunche, the Summer Institute hosts students (10 to 12 grades only) from high schools across metro Detroit to spend a week in the city. Modeled after Bunche's career as a peacemaker, students are briefed on a special curriculum of hot button social issues, and introduced to the power of conflict resolution.  

At the end of the week, students give presentations on how they would help solve current issues in their community. 

'We like to focus on overarching themes when it comes to diversity, social justice, race relations, civil rights, because they all can be the source of conflict,' says Barbara Jones, program director of the Ralph Bunche Institute and Community Dispute Resolution specialist at the Center. 'Some of our young people are not equipped with the basic skills that they need at this crucial age to be able to navigate life.'

Although students from both struggling and stable districts enter the program, navigating school can be difficult anywhere. 

Dale French, 16, an incoming junior at The International Academy of Macomb, had to deal with bullying and low self-esteem in middle school. 'It affected how I thought about myself,' French says. 'If I knew what I know now, I think I would have handled things differently.' 

French hopes to use what he's learned from participating in the Summer Institute to become an advocate for conflict resolution in his community. 

Dale French, 16, student at The International Academy of Macomb

'With everything that has been going on, I feel like it is really important to have something like this because it opens up dialogue and discussion,' French says. 

Beyond all the topics the Center explores through its programs, Hamtramck High School student Scott Hallett, 16, says it's been good to know that, regardless of age, your voice matters. 

'We could make a change if we really put our mind to it, and I never thought of that before,' says Hallett. 'I always thought that they would just shoot our ideas down because we are not adults yet. I now know people will listen to use if what we're saying is valid.'

Up until the early 2000s, the Center had peer mediators in every Detroit Public School, funded by a grant to Wayne State through the US Department of Education. But for the last three years, the Center has been completely dependent on outside funding. Jones says recent increases in school suspensions and other disciplinary issues could be curbed by programs like the Summer Institute. 

'We depend on our teachers so much to educate our students. They can't focus on academics if they are always trying to resolve conflict with students,' says Jones." 

Read on at: Keeping the peace: Wayne State program continues longtime work of youth conflict resolution