Conflict Engagement in a Divided World

In today’s world of political stalemates and battles in Facebook comment sections, successfully navigating conflict engagement can be refreshing. Drake University’s Master of Public Administration program now offers a class dedicated to doing just that.

Co-taught by Thomas F. Sheehan Distinguished Professor of Public Administration, Dr. C. Kenneth Meyer, Ph.D., and Richard K. Tucker, Ed.S., the course focuses on teaching strategies to navigate scenarios where tensions are high and differences are prevalent.

Last month, students in this course had the opportunity to meet and hear from politician and political activist Robert “Bob” Vander Plaats, GR’92, GR’99. He is currently the president and CEO of The Family Leader, a social conservative organization that advocates for public policy consistent with biblical values. In 2016, he served as the National Co-Chair for Ted Cruz for President.

No stranger to working in high-conflict situations, Vander Plaats’ experience in conflict resolution was strongly influenced by his relationship with civil rights and LGBTQ equality activist Donna Red Wing. Their discourse exemplified the restoration of civil dialogue in situations where partisan divide is the norm.

Vander Plaats’ lecture covered the development of his relationship with Red Wing and how it helped him grow as a politician and a human being, points well-received by the graduate students.

Dr. C. K. Meyer, a professor for nearly 55 years summarized the class with this quote: ““Bob Vander Plaats was only known to the participants in this conflict engagement class for his ideological and theological orientation on issues that make the United States a divided society, such as abortion and LGBTQ. The class listened, observed, contributed, and drew out the experiences of other members of the class and the presenter.  Fundamentally, we learned how to help each other learn different viewpoints, while maintaining our own identities and commitments. In the context of our own life’s narratives, we established a new relationship with Bob Vanderplatts based on the commonality of civility and mutual respect—perhaps the beginning of a real friendship”.

The class met with several more world leaders during their trip to Europe later in March. Students of the course were educated on different tactics to navigate various cultural divides. Learn more about their travels by clicking here.