Editor’s note: This is part of a series of stories exploring what Gordon professors are up to in between semesters.

Conflict doesn’t have to mean bad news. In fact, according to Judith Olesonassistant professor in sociology and social work, it can be transformative. As part of the curriculum development track of the International Social Work (ISW) conference June 14-16 in Minneapolis, MN, Oleson will present a workshop entitled, “Conflict as a Transformative Process: Preparing Social Work Students for the Reality of Local and Global Contexts.” The talk sprang out of two new courses she recently developed for Gordon’s minor in Peace and Conflict Studies, “Peacemaking: Personal, Social, Global” and “Conflict Transformation and Reconciliation.”

Oleson is also conducting research in reconciliation processes between indigenous and non-indigenous groups in Australia, Canada and the U.S., and so after the ISW conference, she will drive north to participate in the National Gathering of the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Suskatoon, Canada, June 21-24.  The event is to honor the First Nation survivors of the residential schools, operated throughout Canada through government and church partnerships.  In addition to interviewing Canadians engaged in the reconciliation process for her research, Oleson will help facilitate survivor groups and provide individual support to those giving testimony. The following is part of her abstract for the ISW conference:

“Conflict as a Transformative Process”
By Judith Oleson

Undergraduate social work students are taught from a generalist framework that enables them to make connections between micro, mezzo and macro contexts of practice. Conflict occurs on all levels and is often the first point of crisis when students are in their field practicum: conflict among colleagues, with clients, with the organizational system or within the community. Providing theory to normalize and understand conflict, and utilize it as a transformational process is essential, whether non-profits or ethnic groups. Teaching the initial skills for social workers to navigate and mediate this conflict is essential for their work at the local or global level.

The purpose of this workshop is to introduce conflict theory and conflict transformation frameworks that can be integrated into a social work curriculum. It will explore both classroom and field opportunities that integrate social work practice and conflict studies. It will enable the participant to envision the need for conflict studies at the local and global levels as an integrated part of social work practice.  The workshop is broken into five sections for interaction:

  1. Define the conflict /conflict transformation studies and brainstorm the need for social work students at local and global levels;
  2. Presentation of key components of conflict/conflict transformation curriculum for social work education;
  3. Discussion of case study, comparative studies, and experiential learning as methods and best practices for conflict/ conflict transformation studies;
  4. Presentation of introductory dialogue and mediation skills for social work practice;
  5. Designing a plan: discussion of institutional capacity and the dynamics of integrating personal and professional/ theory and practice/local and global.

Participants will design a plan for how they could integrate some aspect of conflict /conflict transformation in their social work program. The key content and summary of participant contributions will be submitted to the Journal on Social Work Education. But more important, participants will be empowered to help their students utilize conflict as a transformational process in both local and global  contexts.