How to fill the UWC gap

Frieda Kay (USA, UWC AC 2006-2008)
A reflection of Conflict Resolution Focus week and a reaction to growing AC sentiments

Many of us feel like there is something missing here at AC. Dozens of articles have been written about how we experience a certain degree of disillusionment after expecting AC to be a utopia of cultural understanding before arriving. As a first year stated the other day, “There seems to be a major gap in AC, which creeps its way into every aspect of it.” I won’t waste your time by reiterating points other articles have already touched on. On the contrary, instead of complaining yet again about how we don’t feel/act/live with enough “UWC-ness”, I humbly offer a solution.

Conflict Resolution focus week began on November 19th with the arrival of Selena Sermeno representing the Bartos Institute of the United World College of the American West, accompanied by my father David Kay. Selena began Monday with an introduction to the Bartos Institute’s program entitled the Constructive Engagement of Conflict (CEC). Knut pointed out in his article last week about how we so often rush to find a solution rather than develop the process of sharing opinions. This is an extremely important point which needs to be fully acknowledged. Selena addressed a similar issue when she explained how they call it engagement of conflict rather than resolution. People often rush too easily to resolve an issue without paying enough attention to the dialogue which precedes a solution, and thus the emphasis should be on how one handles and engages oneself.

Throughout the week, Selena led a series of workshops to make an attempt at introducing some of the principles from the Bartos Institute on how to handle oneself in a dialogue. I believe these to be crucial skills which all UWC students should develop because at one time throughout the two years, we will all find ourselves involved in a dialogue. In various cases, I’ve see that many of us don’t quite know how to handle ourselves, be it our listening skills are lacking or our articulation. In many of the discussions that are held over the years, people often do not feel comfortable enough to express themselves or show any vulnerability.

Selena’s workshops created what she called a “safe space” for us to be open and exposed. They created amongst us a close community, a space in which we could discuss anything from homosexuality to sex before marriage to death without feeling intimidated to speak up. After every workshop, I heard people remarking on what a “UWC” experience it was. While Selena didn’t have time to go into many technical skills for facilitation or dialogue, she created the appropriate atmosphere for such. More importantly she made us realize what it was that AC was lacking.

With this foundation, we can now go on to develop our skills in partaking in and facilitating a dialogue. This may sound complicated but it is as simple as improving listening skills and learning how to be a good leader. I believe these skills are critical for all UWC students and especially in the case of the former, are also quite lacking among many of us. Additionally, the CEC program allows students to open up and creates a receptive community which will give way to what we all imagined UWC would give us. My father’s workshop on mediation also introduced some important skills, as many of us, in one way or another, have found ourselves caught as a neutral between two disputing sides.

So where to go from here? Kevin and I, with Selena’s transatlantic help, are starting a CEC activity next term to further our training and collaborate with other UWCs with similar programs. Furthermore, group of students are working together with Neil to try to make a Constructive Engagement of Conflict program a fully integrated part of AC life. This would include not only the fun games and exercises we experienced with Selena and making a space for constructive discussions, but also hopefully integrating the outside community into our college life on what we hope to be a weekly basis. The sky is the limit to how far we take this program, and hopefully you will see its beginning next term. I encourage everyone to get involved in this new initiative, and speak to some of the people who are already a part of it. I think I can confidently say it will be a rewarding experience for all. Together we can fill in what so many of feel AC lacks.

– United World College Student Magazine –

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