For Some S-CAR Students, Spring Break Means Analyzing Conflicts

Posted: February 19, 2014 at 5:00 am, Last Updated: February 20, 2014 at 7:02 am

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By Buzz McClain

West Virginia

A service learning intensive will take students to West Virginia over spring break.

About a dozen undergraduates in George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (S-CAR) will take part in a Service Learning Intensive during spring break that will give them hands-on experience putting conflict theories into practice. The students, who have wide-ranging ages and backgrounds, will travel together to Charleston, W.Va., to develop their analytical skills in resolving conflicts while working with members of the local Job Corps facility.

For three days in March, the students of the SLI called Community Based Learning: Conflict and Social Justice will design, create and implement skills exercises and workshops to be conducted with the student leaders of Job Corps, a no-cost education and career technical training program of the Department of Labor. Job Corps members are young adults from different backgrounds who are working to find employment or find training for advancement.

“The engagement is reciprocal,” says Patricia Maulden, an S-CAR professor and director of the school’s Dialogue and Difference Project. “Each group benefits, albeit in different ways.”

For the Mason students, the SLI gives them an opportunity to link theory to practice, and they do it during a brief, but intense, timeframe. For the Job Corps members, they have the chance to develop conflict resolution skills such as active listening, analyzing conflict dynamics, and group process design that can assist them in future employment as well as in their personal lives.

In past visits, workshops with the student leaders proved to be mutually favorable, fun and even emotional at times as S-CAR’s students encounter a peer cohort that has, says Maulden, “survived against odds that would daunt or crush most of us.” Racial tensions, gentrification and environmental challenges in the community — most recently the result of a chemical spill that has contaminated the water supply for 300,000 residents — are also issues the Mason students will encounter.

Alison Castel, a Mason dean’s fellow who is teaching the course this semester and is accompanying the students to Charleston, says that one of the most important elements to a service learning intensive such as this is to avoid ‘parachuting’ into a community or context.

“The students will learn about the history and politics of Job Corps and the population it serves, and, framed by readings and analyses within critical youth studies, [analyze] some of the issues surrounding marginalized youth in the United States. It’s with this backdrop and framework that students will design a practical component for working with student leaders at the facility.”

The SLI is compact by design — it takes place only in the month of March, consists of 45 contact hours and it fulfills a graduation requirement.

While the students spend their days engaged with Job Corps members and the organization’s officials, as well as meeting other community leaders on different conflict dynamics, they spend their nights reviewing the day’s events and prepping for the next day.

It’s not the typical idea of a spring break, but it seems S-CAR students are anything but typical.


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