WMU News

Forum highlights conflict resolution among young people

January 13, 1998

KALAMAZOO-- A group dedicated to helping youngsters navigate the complicated world of human relationships will hold a public forum at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 20, in Room 208 of the Bernhard Center at Western Michigan University.

Called Project FREE (facilitating, resolving, educating and empowering), the group is comprised of WMU faculty and students as well as members of the community who are trained as mediators of conflict resolution. The group's mandate is to work with 11- to-14-year-olds on anger management, interpersonal communication and conflict resolution skills in non-school settings.

"This forum is designed to raise community awareness about this issue and demonstrate the kind of things we're accomplishing with kids," says Dr. Susan L. Caulfield, WMU associate professor of sociology and facilitator of Project FREE. "We're inviting youth group leaders, teachers and anyone concerned about young people to attend this event."

Caulfield says the forum will feature speakers from Project FREE and will include demonstrations of role playing and other interactive exercises they're using to give young people the skills they need to deal with emotions and difficult situations in a positive way. The group doesn't focus on giving students easy answers, but instead helps provide understanding and awareness so they can make positive communication choices when dealing with friends, parents or teachers.

"We really get to talk about why is it important to communicate, why is it important to ask questions," she explains. "Through our exercises youngsters really get an appreciation for what goes into everyday conversation. They are kind of amazed and intrigued by it."

While Caulfield says some schools have begun tackling conflict resolution issues through their curriculum, this group's aim is to work in non-school settings demonstrating the importance of healthy communication beyond the classroom. The group is currently working with a variety of church and community youth groups to provide training. They eventually hope to train some of the youngsters to work as leaders with children their own age.

Project FREE is a joint effort of WMU, the city of Kalamazoo's Coalition on Youth Violence Prevention and the Dispute Resolution Center of Kalamazoo and Barry Counties. Volunteers interested in getting involved should contact Caulfield at (616) 387- 5291 or by e-mail at caulfield@wmich.edu.

For information about the forum, persons should contact Caulfield at (616) 387-5291. For assistance in contacting her or if you're looking for an expert on another topic, contact Julie Paavola, WMU Marketing, Public Relations and Communications, at (616) 387-8413.

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