Update: Laura Chasin passed away unexpectedly on November 17, 2015, a few weeks after NYSDRA was able to present her and Richard with the Andrew Thomas PeaceBuilder Award. In the words of the Public Conversations Project: "[Her] memory will always be a blessing. Her legacy belongs to all of us, and our partnership is more critical now than ever."
Laura Chasin brought a diverse intellectual background to founding the Public Conversation Project in Watertown MA in 1989. In addition to a BA from Bryn Mawr College, an MA in Government from Harvard University, and an MSW from Simmons College, she had extensive post-graduate training in family therapy and psychodrama.
The original goal of the Public Conversations Project was to discover whether methods effective in family systems therapy could be usefully adapted to public controversies. After successful pilot dialogues and a planning grant from the Hewlett Foundation, the Public Conversations Project became a non-profit dedicated to fostering constructive conversations where conflicts are intensified by differences in identities, beliefs and values.
Since then Public Conversations has worked with a variety of non-profit organizations, networks, and communities across the United States and in three African countries. Most of the conflicted US contexts were stressed by polarizing issues in the surrounding society, such as abortion, immigration, same sex marriage, gun safety, or faith and science. In Africa, religious differences or issues related to post-genocide reintegration were the focus of Public Conversations involvement. One dialogue brought together local pro-choice and pro-life leaders to lower the civic “temperature” after fatal shootings in Boston-area clinics in 1994.
Public Conversations’ “reflective structured dialogues” rapidly reduce stereotypes and increase mutual understanding and trust among antagonists, allowing fresh ideas and opportunities for joint actions to be identified and often pursued. In 1998, Public Conversations was given an award for Innovative Contributions by the Society of Professionals in Dispute Resolution.
Public Conversations’ menu of trainings and free practical resources, including one that Laura co-authored, Fostering Dialogue Across Divides: A Nuts and Bolts Guide, are available at www.publicconversations.org
Recently, Laura has been actively involved with No Labels, the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation, and the Transpartisan Alliance all of which have missions that are deeply congruent with that of the Public Conversations Project.
Richard Chasin, Yale, B.A. 1956 and Harvard, MD 1960, did post-doctoral training in internal medicine, child and adult psychiatry, psychoanalysis, and psychodrama. In 1978, he become a charter member of the American Family Therapy Academy, an organization that includes a majority of the most active trainers, writers, and researchers in the field. He was its president from 1993-1995 and received its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009. He was made an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School in 1984. That year, he and a colleague developed the psychological component of the Negotiation Workshop at Harvard Law School, an intensive course taken annually by hundreds of graduate students at Harvard, MIT, and Tufts. The curriculum they created is still used today.
In 1982, Dick became active in the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. He designed and ran a 33-nation dialogue on stereotyping at its World Congress in Moscow in 1985, the year it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
He and Laura both served on the facilitation team in two Bipartisan Congressional Retreats held in the 1990s. Dick joined the Public Conversations Project in 1989 and still serves as a Senior Associate.
He and Laura Chasin have been married for 43 years and live in Cambridge MA.