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Bryn Mawr College welcomes the Solomon Asch Center for the Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict

The Solomon Asch Center for the Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict, which was established a decade ago at the University of Pennsylvania, has moved to Bryn Mawr.

Co-directors Clark McCauley and Marc Ross will host a reception to celebrate the Center's official Bryn Mawr opening on Monday, April 21, at 5:30 p.m., following a lecture by Haverford political scientist Barak Mendelsohn at 4 p.m. in Bettws-y-Coed 239.

McCauley, a professor of psychology, and Ross, the William Rand Kenan Jr. Professor of political science and the director of the Bryn Mawr-Haverford Peace and Conflict Studies Program, have long been associated with the Asch Center. McCauley, along with Penn psychologist Paul Rozin, founded the Center; he has served as one of two co-directors since its creation in 1998. Ross has served on the faculty of each of four summer institutes at which the Asch Center brought together social scientists and practitioners from around the world to study the origins and consequences of ethnopolitical conflict.

The center's summer institutes have been critical in developing its international network of scores of scholars, policy makers, clinical psychologists, and representatives of humanitarian and relief programs that serve survivors of violent conflict. McCauley and Ross are eager to develop relationships between members of the Bryn Mawr community and the Asch Center's far-flung circle of friends.

"We're hoping to put our people power to work for Bryn Mawr students by establishing internships and mentoring opportunities of various kinds," says McCauley.

According to Ross, interest in such opportunities is strong among Bryn Mawr students.

"When I see how committed students in my classes are to learning about and finding solutions to violent conflict, it restores my hopes for the future," Ross says. "It can be dispiriting to research longstanding conflicts that appear to be intractable. But the fact that so many students want to study Rwanda or the conflicts in the Middle East stops me from getting discouraged."

During its years at Penn, the center was independently funded—the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies, the MacArthur Foundation, the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Science Foundation, and individual donors have underwritten its efforts—and McCauley and Ross are now seeking similar funding for its work at Bryn Mawr.

In addition to its summer institutes, the center has funded research, including sponsoring postdoctoral fellowships; hosted a series of research talks; developed initiatives to help refugee communities;  and established cooperative research arrangements with sites in Northern Ireland, South Africa, Israel/Palestine, and Sri Lanka. It counts scholars from a number of Delaware Valley colleges and universities among its affiliated faculty.

McCauly and Ross hope to continue many of the activities the center has pursued in the past. The speaker series, including Monday's lecture by Mendelsohn, is under way. Beginning in May, the center will host Muhammad Ishaque Fani, an associate professor of international relations at Bahauddin Zakariya University in Pakistan, as a visiting scholar. Fani is at work on a book that traces the emergence of religious radicalism in madrassahs and mosques in Pakistan since the 1990s.

Other research projects sponsored by the center include computer modeling of several political phenomena involving ethnic conflict and group identification as well as studies of the future of Arab-Israeli relations, the influence of core beliefs on individuals and groups, the powerful attachment of ethnic groups to national lands, cultural essentialism, and ethnic aversion.

McCauly is planning two new Asch-sponsored research projects, one focusing on humiliation and another, to be conducted with assistance from an incoming graduate student in clinical developmental psychology, on how certain kinds of death are socially constructed as martyrdoms.

But their first priority, McCauley and Ross say, is developing new programs that are consonant with the College's undergraduate focus. A summer-internship program drawing on the center's international network is one such proposal.

Another will bring postdoctoral fellows who have personal experience in conflict zones to the Bryn Mawr campus to teach and lead faculty workshops as they engage in writing projects based on their work in the field.

The center also plans to develop a summer program for high-school students, modeled on Bryn Mawr's successful Writing for College and Science for College programs.

"I think it's terrific that the center is moving to Bryn Mawr," Ross says. "It has been very important to me for a decade. The contacts I've made through the center have helped me reach a much deeper and more complex understanding of ethnic conflict around the world."

In a world in which conflicts involving non-state actors are becoming more common, McCauley says, such understanding is becoming more and more necessary: "Understanding non-state conflicts around the world, and the flows of people that are often consequences of such conflicts, is an important part of a globalized education."

 

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Posted 4/17/2008 by Claudia Ginanni