By JASMINE WALLACE
Students, faculty, and staff have come together to form both a mediation center and a mediation club on campus that attempt to facilitate mediation of conflicts between members of the St. Lawrence University community. “We’re just here to provide a space to resolve conflicts on campus,” said Kathleen Berman ’12, who is the mediation intern. She explained that both the new center and the student-run mediation club are still working on attracting interest and making their presence known.
According to Dr. Laura Rediehs, a founder of the center and a member of the Mediation Coordinating Committee, the goal of the center is, “to help people resolve their conflicts through a facilitated process that helps empower people to solve their own problems.” She explained that the mediators are skilled at listening to what both sides of a conflict have to say to come to a deeper understanding of the real issues at work. “I think it’s important to have on campus because in our society more generally we don’t learn really good skills to resolve conflict,” said Rediehs.
The center has been in planning ever since she and University Chaplain Kathleen Buckley began discussing the addition of a peace studies minor to the campus curriculum. “People are very interested and very supportive of the idea,” said Rediehs, “A lot of people see the need.” The center, which is funded by an Innovation Grant, offers both mediation and conflict coaching, which is a one-on-one process.
“Mediation is a great process to go through when resolving a conflict because it is an experience of being heard deeply and listened to in a way that exposes needs that you didn’t even realize you had,” said Rediehs. Conflicts that arise between individuals who need to reach a mutually agreeable conclusion in order to live or work together are prime candidates for mediation, according to Rediehs, who said, “Roommate disputes tend to lend themselves well to mediation.” Workplace tensions, personal relationship disputes, and residence hall disagreements can also be successfully mediated, according to Rance Davis, the Associate Dean of Student Life. Additionally, J-Board will also make referrals and sanction mediation for students who have conflicts with each other or their communities.
Davis became certified over spring break and said, “The training was absolutely fabulous. It’s a great opportunity for St. Lawrence and our community to engage in a way that I believe can have a positive impact on the campus.” The training took place over four days. Davis described the training as being very emotional and involving down to earth thinking about people and their conflicts. “It’s a lot of work,” said Davis, but he recommended that anyone who is interested and willing to put the work in become certified.
Mediators are expected to objectively aid people by asking questions and guiding them towards their own resolutions. Berman said, “The really powerful thing is that they come to the agreement themselves.” Luke Peleggi ‘14, a founder of the mediation club, noted that his favorite part of mediation was facilitating productive discussion between students and helping them to resolve their conflicts. Peleggi, said, “I think that it’s a really good resource to use for the kind of conflicts in a campus.” Mediation also coincides with a variety of majors on campus including psychology, education, and public speaking, according to Peleggi,. He plans to use his mediation skills to work in human resources after graduating from St. Lawrence.
Rediehs and Buckley first participated in mediation training at Jefferson County Mediation Services at the urging of the center’s directory, and Rediehs said, “We found it was such a great experience to learn those skills.” Shortly after, Matha Thornton, Associate Dean of Student Life and Directory of Residence Life, became interested in training community assistants in mediation.
According to Berman, there are approximately 40 certified mediators on campus as a result of the two certification courses that have been offered on campus. The first mediation certification training was held last year during senior week, and 20 students and staff members were trained in mediation. This year, Kathleen Buckley taught a course about mediation that culminated in a 32-hour intensive training period over spring break. The second certification course was given over spring break this March, and many of the current club members took part.
The last class that was certified decided to start a mediation club in addition to the mediation center. “I love mediation,” said Peleggi. He added, “I think that it gets right to the underlying situations and real needs of the individuals.” He explained that he became interested after taking the class about mediation Buckley. About half of the class members have joined the new club. “I’ve been really happy with its outcome,” said Berman about the mediation class, which was taught by for the first time this semester.
The club meets regularly to keep their skills fresh by practicing mediation, and is hoping to increase awareness about mediation and attract interest from students, faculty, and staff. They currently meet on Tuesdays from 11:45 to 12:30 in Carnegie 107 and the group has about 12 members. Though it is currently an unofficial organization, the club is planning to apply for funding and organization status from Thelmo and is discussing how to attract new members. Their future plans include visiting Skidmore University, which also has a mediation group called Fight Club, to see how other mediation groups work on college campuses.
“We’re still getting the word out. There have been several inquiries,” said Rediehs about the center. In the meantime, the club plans to continue generating support for mediation on campus, and the university plans to offer the mediation course again next spring. Additionally, Dr. Kyle Blanchfield offers a graduate level course called Conflict Resolution that also involves mediation certification. “I see nothing but good coming out of this,” said Davis, “I think that over time, it will become a permanent part of our culture.”