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New Faces: Lydia Nussbaum

The new law professor on real-world problem solving, Quakers, and the downside to developing a precise argument.
People  |  Sep 4, 2013  |  By UNLV News Center

Boyd School of Law Associate Professor Lydia Nussbaum joins UNLV as director of the Strasser Mediation Clinic and associate director of the Saltman Center for Conflict Resolution. (Aaron Mayes/UNLV Photo Services)

Lydia Nussbaum is taking over as director of the Strasser Mediation Clinic and associate director of the Saltman Center for Conflict Resolution, both at the William S. Boyd School of Law. Her upbringing in Quaker schools has led to a lifelong pursuit of conflict resolution, peace building, and reconciliation.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Texas but grew up outside of Philadelphia. I have many fond memories of hoagies from Wawa and cans of black cherry wishniak (a soda). When I was 12, my family moved to the Washington D.C. area, where I ultimately learned how to drive, and survive, among the maniacs on the Capital Beltway.

What inspired you to get into your field?

I went to Quaker schools until I was 18 and I internalized Quaker teachings of peace building and nonviolence at a young age. My academic interest in dispute resolution really began when I was a history major at Cornell University. I was drawn to the question of how societies respond to atrocity and state-sanctioned violence. I studied how different national communities across the globe balance objectives of justice, vengeance, forgiveness, and remembering in the aftermath of conflict or state terrorism.

I then went to law school with the intention to use my degree to work on international dispute resolution mechanisms like truth and reconciliation commissions. In the process, I began mediating in communities around Baltimore City, and I learned about the importance of cultivating conflict resolution at the individual level.

What's the biggest misconception about your field?

A lot of people think mediators provide counseling or tell people what they should do. Good mediators listen more than they talk, and they do not presume to know the answers.

What's the biggest challenge in your field?

Lawyers are trained to narrow issues down to precise points and to develop arguments that make one side of a story more plausible than another. But sometimes this approach to problem-solving and the remedies made available by the law are not well-suited to the real world, where people and their stories are complicated, multi-dimensional, and dynamic.

What excites you most about the Saltman Center for Conflict Resolution?

The Saltman Center's commitment to public service. This commitment runs through each element of its mission. Educating students and the community, serving as a resource for the wider UNLV campus, providing mediation and arbitration services to individuals in and around Las Vegas, and bringing together scholars and practitioners to think through some of the most pressing issues of the day--these are all things that the Saltman Center does and is precisely the kind of work that I want to do.

What can't you work without?

A deadline.

If you could fix one thing in the world, what would it be?

The cycle of violence and retaliation.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I have hiked to the Taktsang Palphug Monastery (also known as the Tiger's Nest) in Bhutan.

Pastime or hobbies?

I love the outdoors and I am crazy about jigsaw puzzles -- the more pieces the better. When I need to recharge, I read a good novel.

-Compiled by Vaneh Movsessian, communications specialist with the Boyd Law School