VULS receives grants from Andrus Family Fund of the Surdna Foundation

Dec 7, 2006

Vanderbilt Law School has received two separate grants from the Andrus Family Fund of the Surdna Foundation of New York to support research and training aimed at resolving community conflict and strengthening the foster care system in the U.S.

The first grant will fund an interdisciplinary conference at the law school on March 30-31, 2007. “The conference will bring together leading experts in conflict resolution representing a broad spectrum of disciplines, including psychology, sociology, religion, philosophy, neuroscience, political science and law, to discuss how concepts that apply to dispute resolution between individuals may change when applied in a group context,” Professor Erin O’Hara, who is organizing the conference, said. “We’ll be examining emotional, psychological and other barriers to apology, forgiveness and reconciliation in the context of disputes among groups as distinguished from conflicts between individuals.”

The conference will provide an opportunity for scholars to discuss their ideas with professionals whose work has addressed group conflicts, including disputes between African-American activists and police over racial profiling, and disagreements between evangelical Christians, mainline Protestants and civil liberties groups over educational materials describing the role of Christian theologians in the rise of Adolf Hitler. “There’s a large body of research in the areas of psychology, sociology and law focusing on apology, forgiveness and reconciliation in dyadic relationships, such as those between a victim and her offender, or between husband and wife,” said Professor O’Hara, whose work has addressed the influence of law on apology in dispute resolution. “We’re interested in determining the extent to which this body of knowledge can be applied in dealing with conflicts between groups, and we’ll discuss the strengths and weaknesses of prevailing theories of conflict resolution with pure practitioners.”

The second grant funds an ongoing program through which Vanderbilt Law School will coordinate research, technical assistance and training for other Andrus Family Fund (AFF) grantees engaged in initiatives designed not only to effect positive social change, but also to identify and address emotional and psychological barriers that either prevent change or threaten its long-term success. According to Roger Conner, adjunct professor at Vanderbilt Law School and director of the AFF project, the need for better approaches to helping individuals and groups navigate emotionally charged transition periods is particularly urgent for two current AFF initiatives – improving the process by which children in foster care transition to independent living when they reach age 18, and resolving longstanding community conflicts.

“In most states, young people are expected to become independent almost instantaneously when they ‘age out’ of the foster care system at 18, although they have typically had little of the sort of mentoring that prepares young adults to make a successful transition to living on their own,” he explained. “Experience shows that it’s equally difficult for people in communities where conflicts have festered for years to make the emotional transitions required to achieve lasting peace. We’ll be working with an interdisciplinary team of professionals in organizational development, leadership and conflict resolution, along with AFF members and other AFF grant recipients, to develop new tools designed to help adults and youth navigate these crucial transitions.”

The Surdna Foundation, one of the oldest and largest philanthropic family foundations in the United States, created the Andrus Family Fund in 2000 to allow fifth-generation family members between the ages of 25 and 45 to direct a significant portion of the foundation’s annual giving. “We are genuinely excited about the opportunity to work with members of the Andrus Family Fund to provide research and training resources to support their foster care transition and community reconciliation programs,” Dean Edward L. Rubin said. “These programs have tremendous potential to improve lives in the communities where they’re implemented, and we hope they will enable us to develop effective methods that can be used to effect reconciliation and healing in other situations where conflicts among groups appear insurmountable.”

Vanderbilt University Law School has trained excellent lawyers for careers throughout the nation and the world for more than 125 years. The law school is ranked among the top 20 law schools in the United States by U.S. News & World Report, and its faculty includes top scholars in constitutional law, complex litigation, torts, law and business, international law, property law, criminal law, contract law, dispute resolution, law and biology, law and economics, and other areas.

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