New Report Offers Higher Ed Leaders Strategies to Transform 6 Types of Campus Conflict

March 1, 2023

A new report derived from qualitative interviews with administrators, faculty, staff, and students provides concrete recommendations for higher education leaders to proactively face campus conflicts by creating cultures of robust dialogue that facilitate shared problem-solving and greater institutional trust.

Constructive Dialogue Institute
Cambriae Lee,

New York, March 1, 2023 – The Constructive Dialogue Institute (CDI) and The Aspen Institute’s Citizenship and American Identity Program have released a joint research report, Transforming Conflict on College Campuses. The report aims to define the major contributors to modern-day U.S. campus conflict and help institutions build cultures apt for addressing contentious issues in ways that move campuses forward.

We are experiencing the greatest political division we’ve seen in the last fifty years, and higher education institutions are finding themselves at the center of the challenge. Worst of all, leaders feel unprepared to proactively confront the unique kinds of discord born from this polarized era. This project is in response to the need for guidance on best practices to alleviate tensions across differences. From administrators to student leaders, there’s a want for frameworks that lead to growth rather than deepening fractures and distrust.

“Universities and colleges are community pillars that act as forums for ideas, debates, and diverse views – so it’s easy for conflict to present itself throughout campus settings. We hear about students protesting speakers, faculty fearing backlash during discussions, and institutions at odds with surrounding communities regarding displacement and resource sharing. Institutions face so much, and they rightfully need help grappling with the plethora of challenges. We hope this report proves to be a valuable resource,” says Mylien Duong, senior director of research at the Constructive Dialogue Institute.

The report offers overarching principles and concrete strategies for addressing six types of campus conflict: 

  1. Conflicts over speakers coming to campus
  2. Conflicts between or within student groups
  3. Interpersonal conflicts between individual students, faculty, and/or staff
  4. Conflicts between student groups and the administration (including alumni groups and boards)
  5. Conflicts between faculty and/or staff and the administration 
  6. Conflicts between the institution and its surrounding neighbors 

“Throughout the report, we intentionally speak about conflict as something to transform rather than resolve,” says Erik Gross, program manager for the Aspen Institute’s Citizenship and American Identity Program. “We want to emphasize that conflict will always exist — and addressing it should be normal — but improving outcomes means changing how campuses relate to conflict and how campus community members relate to each other.” 

Additionally, the report provides a discussion guide to help campus stakeholders begin necessary conversations on their campus. 

Higher ed leaders can download the full report at

About the Constructive Dialogue Institute (CDI)

Co-founded in 2017 by psychologist Jonathan Haidt and Caroline Mehl, the Constructive Dialogue Institute (CDI) is a non-profit organization dedicated to equipping people with the mindset and skills to engage in dialogue across differences. To accomplish this goal, CDI translates the latest behavioral science research into educational resources that are evidence-based, practical, and scalable for institutions, educators, and communities.  

About the Aspen Institute’s Citizenship and American Identity Program

The Citizenship and American Identity Program focuses on the challenge of sustaining strong citizenship in America and coherent national identity in an age of demographic flux and severe inequality. In a centrifugal time when this country has never been more diverse and polarized and when its role in the world is rapidly shifting, the question of what it means to be American – and how we create a sustainable story of “us” – is of prime consequence.

View Comments