Incorporating a Campus Mediation Program

Conflict is a normal, unavoidable part of life.  As long as we are alive and making decisions, we will encounter conflict and its effects.  Our ability to deal with conflict; however, is almost tested daily throughout our lives. The effects of disputes on our lives can be devastating and everlasting if not taken care of.  An institution of any specific type must examine ways to handle conflict, not only to maintain rules and order, but also to teach a comprehensive strategy in terms of skills and concepts that can be taught and learned through conflict management.

Students who go off to colleges, universities, and other learning institutions experience a great deal of conflict as they live independently of their protective environments, including with their parents to be with a heterogeneous group of peers.  They experience interactions with people who are different from themselves in a variety of aspects; race, culture, personality, tolerance, sexual preference, ethnicity, and religion with whom they will interact daily.  They face interpersonal conflicts and conflicts stemming from testing boundaries and learning the real meaning of independence, and group responsibility.

With crime rates rising on college and university campuses, and conflicts gone awry, it makes sense that we would want to maximize our ability to resolve conflicts satisfyingly.  However, the way we deal with conflict is often an automatic reflex, an unconscious choice, a strategy based on fear, confusion, mistrust, or survival.  It is apparent that the ever-growing need to minimize all forms of violence has been at a standstill among some educational institutions and the need for a viable resolution has not fully taken place.

Mediation is now the preferred form of conflict for a college/university campus.  It is one of the fastest-growing programs on college campuses in the United States today.  The new programs are inspiring, but the pace needs to increase.  New programs begin almost every month as students on college/university campuses realize the value of alternative conflict resolution and how it can relieve onsets of confusion and chaos.

Mediation can provide students at learning institutions with a confidential, alternative forum to the judicial systems in which to resolve conflicts.  It is a process that seeks to uncover and solve the roots of conflict and often serves as a better alternative to the judicial system.  It is an expedient, low-cost method for resolving disputes.

The mediation process itself encourages a healthy and positive discussion between disputing parties; calls upon the disputants to brainstorm several possible solutions, and for them to decide the most appropriate course of action to settle.  By focusing on resolving disputes instead of placing blame, mediation serves to enhance communication and productive interactions between the parties.  It can provide the students and community of higher learning institutions with an alternative form of conflict resolution and educate the community about the advantages and tools of the mediation process.  It can be a student-based organization, in which students can be trained to operate an effective anti violence forum.

Why is mediation the preferred choice for campus conflicts?  Before Conflict Resolution began, disciplinary procedures were usually a formal process on college campuses; written rules and regulations by the Board of Governors from decades ago and updated as time progressed according to needed interactions on campuses. It was concerned with the due process of law and disrespectful orientation, patterning themselves after the courts to maintain the dignity of the institution and individual.  Conflict is a natural state often accompanying changes in our institutions. It is better approached with skills than avoidance.

You can proactively help to eliminate unnecessary conflict and manage inevitable conflict on campus by enabling students to effectively address needed, conflicting situations. Students can be given a chance to gain individual freedom and improvement to feel more confident in applying needed life skills when seeking career goals and engaging in interactions with each other and administration.

Mediation, as a way of settling conflicts, offers a quick, innovative, and comprehensive way to compromise a variety of conflicts involving students, faculty, and the community (restorative justice).  These conflicts may include roommate disagreements, petty theft, sexual harassment, divorce, student/professor conflicts, and more.  Mediation is being incorporated into every facet of the business world as well as personal relationships with family and friends.  It can be a very useful intervention tool for short-term crises that over the long-term may require therapy.

In situations where two parties are involved and a peaceful resolution would be beneficial, mediation, rather than discipline, fosters self-responsibility in students and increases their ability to solve their own problems.  Mediation offers educators and students a model for promoting individuals’ capacities and responsibilities for making decisions about their lives; for fostering mutual respect and cooperation; and developing the use of fairness rather than power as a basis for resolving conflicts.

The implementation of mediated conflict resolution is an effective method for creating positive, atmospheric learning institutions where all students can develop prosocial behaviors, improving the quality of teacher-student interaction by reducing teacher-imposed solutions in student conflict situations.  With a healthy and proactive college-based mediation program, the momentum toward peaceful relationships can spread into the community’s school system, the public justice system, and lifestyle.

With mediation training, the techniques and process skills for resolving conflicts are tailored to provide the highest quality of mediation training to students and peers acting as student mediators.  Through case studies, lectures, interactive simulations, and carefully tailored exercises, students learn how to effectively mediate a wide variety of conflicts that affect different segments of our lives.  Students learn the basic facilitative mediation skills, which are central to any effective mediation practice.  Topics can include the stages common to most mediations, how to prepare and deliver an introduction, the role of the mediator, mediation tools and techniques, identifying parties’ interests, empowerment, confidentiality, power imbalances, mediator ethics and more.  Moreover, mediation training can lead to students, administration and peers acquiring a 40-hour training certificate for their official state certification in mediation.

In its growing trend, careful research has shown that an overwhelming number of white college/university campuses have succeeded in implementing conflict resolution/mediation to be a part of their educational transition.  There is still a need for black colleges and universities to take a threshold and become mainstreamed into this growing trend.  With a desire and need to seek possible solutions to disputes that many colleges and universities have, a Student Conflict Resolution entity on any campus is the ideal solution to an educational environment.

At the beginning of research for appropriate mediation models for higher learning, effective brainstorming must be allowed to ensure that the right program is needed and addresses all the right issues forthcoming.  A panel of interested collaborators will be the key to a successful mediation program.  A representative from different departments and the community can greatly contribute to the success.  Members of the panel may include a student council representative, human resource personnel, legal affairs, community organization, dormitory personnel, student affairs, and finance department. 

Questions put before the panel may include:

What type of program or prevention technique is designed on your college/university campus to curtail incidents of violence?

  • Moot court 

  • Counseling center 

  • Mediation center 

  • Campus guidelines 

  • Residence hall guidelines 

  • Formal legal procedures (off campus) 

  • Dean of Students intervention 

  • Student Grievance Forms

  • Others

Are residence hall supervisors trained in crisis management or mediation to oversee disturbances?  

What interventions are in place to manage the campus response to crises, disagreements, or disasters?

  • Counseling center 

  • Mental health professional 

  • Peer group

  • Written protocol 

  • Off-campus legal procedure 

  • Mediation center off-campus 

  • Mentors 

Has your campus experienced any of the following?

  • Student/professor disagreements 

  • Date rape 

  • Sexual harassment 

  • Emotional fights, minor assaults, and fighting

  • Roommate disagreements 

  • TV room disagreements 

  • Muggings, assaults, attacks, aggressions 

  • Dormitory theft 

  • Cheating in class 

  • Vandalism 

  • Marriage disputes

  • Sororities/fraternities/organizations denials/disputes

  • Plagiarism

  • Rumor and gossip disputes

  • Relationship difficulties

  • Racial and cultural confrontations

  • Salary issues

  • University policy

  • Housing

  • Bullying

  • And more

When student mediators from both sides of a conflict are brought together to study concepts and practices of conflict resolution, they are ideally being empowered to use new “tools” to help them understand and manage their conflict themselves constructively.

Evaluation of the training session will be to demonstrative measurable improvement in students’ ability to manage anger and frustration in non-violent ways.  The success of the training can be measured through performance evaluations, realization of objectives, the continuous delivery of a conflict resolution entity on campus, and the successful completion of the congruency of goals and objectives of the refined project with the training design and instructional materials.

                        author

Sharon Kendrick-Johnson

Sharon Kendrick-Johnson is a Florida Supreme Court Certified Family and County mediator located in Miami, Florida.  She is doctoral candidate in Mediation.  Her mediation skills have taken her to the heights of mediating community, church, and domestic conflicts.  She has also mediated insurance claims, divorce, and more.  Her strengths lie… MORE >

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