The Divided Community Project designs processes that help communities identify, understand and address divisions in their own communities. Credit: Casey Cascaldo | Photo Editor

Lawyers don’t always mediate in the court context — sometimes they bring it into communities across the nation through an Ohio State-based program.

The Divided Community Project, based at the Moritz College of Law, designs processes that help communities identify, understand and address divisions in their own communities caused by differences in race, economy, ethnicity and religion, William Froehlich, deputy director of the Divided Community Project, said.

With the help of a new grant, the project will be able to continue to expand its work within more communities across the country, Becky Monroe, director of the Divided Community Project, said.

“Our mission is to help local leaders strengthen community efforts to transform division into action,” Monroe said.

Since the project’s founding in 2015, the JAMS Foundation — a non-profit that provides financial assistance for conflict-resolution initiatives— has provided three grants. The most recent grant provided $300,000 Oct. 3 to support the project through the 2021 calendar year, Froehlich said.

The project is part of the dispute resolution program at Moritz, which is the No. 1-ranked dispute resolution program at a law school in the country, Froehlich said. The program emphasizes the value of designing conflict resolution systems made for the specific needs of public and private institutions.

For example, one initiative within the Divided Community Project — the Bridge Initiative — trains community members how to keep protests safe and helps settle conflicts between law enforcement and community members, according to the project’s website.

“We take mediation concepts and skills we teach in classes here and apply them to communities with division and tension,” Froehlich said.

Communities in Rochester, New York; Orlando, Florida; and San Mateo County, California, have all been reached by the project, Monroe said.

“We work with communities to teach them how they can constructively respond to community unrest while identifying and meaningfully addressing some of the reasons that underlie the unrest,” Monroe said.

The project is not meant to prevent civil unrest; it is meant to recognize and respect that there are divisions in our communities, and the project’s goal is to keep people safe while addressing these issues, Monroe said.

“Our goal is to provide real-time dispute resolution to people who need it,” Monroe said, “While supporting local leaders and their communities.”

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