University of Calgary

Faculty of Law students widen their perspectives

UToday HomeDecember 19, 2012

Seven students from the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Law received intensive one-day training on how to empathize and collaborate with diverse communities when they participated in Calgary’s inaugural Young Leaders Forum produced by the United Nations Association in Canada (UNAC) on Nov. 23.

Modeled after the UN, the prestigious forum dealt with the issue of diplomacy as it relates to the management of natural resources in Canada. Students from the Faculty of Law were invited to engage with young professionals from non-governmental organizations, energy companies, environmental organizations and other groups involved with the issue of natural resources. About 50 people participated.

“We have a long history of working on model simulations, of producing positive discussions about difficult issues,” says Chris Bourne of UNAC. “Empathy-based learning is a hallmark of UNAC simulations, so we wanted the participants to not only understand different perspectives on the issue, but to come up with new ideas that can move the community dialogue forward.”

Daphne Rodzinyak, a first-year law student with an undergraduate degree in international relations, was one of the students chosen to participate. “I came to law with hopes of getting into international trade and environmental law, so this was a unique opportunity,” she says. “It allowed me to jump into that area in my first year, which is something most first-year students don’t get to do.”

The participants were asked to understand and defend the perspective of one of four primary stakeholder groups: government, Aboriginals, the private sector and environmental organizations. Participants were assigned to one of the four groups and after being briefed by the subject-matter expert from that group, they carried that stakeholder’s perspective into discussions and negotiations with the other three groups.

For Rodzinyak, it was a valuable exercise in learning how to widen her perspective. “Having a strong environmental background, I instinctually look at problems through that lens, often ignoring other points of view,” she says. “The forum reminded me that other stakeholders aren't ‘out to get’ the environment, but rather they try and do the best they can with their mandates. I was amazed at how many themes overlapped ― promises of accountability and global citizenship, problems with perceptions and communication.”

Bourne says the contribution of legal minds was necessary to make the forum a success. “We wanted to have burgeoning lawyers involved because government regulation and the rule of law are huge parts of these kinds of conversations. That legal aspect was a really interesting thread that touches all aspects of this issue,” he says.

Rodzinyak says she's already applying what she learned at the forum. “As a future lawyer I have to remember policies and laws need to complement each other. Also, ideas of international norms and constitutional rights were tossed around, and it made me realize not everyone has a correct understanding of the law. As a lawyer, one of my roles will be to educate my peers involved in these issues about what is required to make a societal value legally binding and whether or not legislation is the most practical and beneficial route, so that legal requirements are not frustrated, undermined, or misrepresented.”

The $500 participation fees paid by the Faculty of Law students were covered by law school alumni.