The Role of Law in Mediation

by Shawn Jang

Who is a better mediator? A young lawyer or a grey-haired, non-lawyer community leader? This is one of the constantly debated issues in the dispute resolution field. Some argue that legal knowledge is an essential armor that an efficient mediator must be equipped with. Others say that the communication and facilitation skills and personality are more important. My response has been somewhat in the middle of those arguments. I graduated from a law college in Korea but do not identify as a lawyer. I have been a professional mediator and have relevant trainings and knowledge for that. From my experience, my answer is that it depends.

I facilitated a landlord-tenant case some time ago that is a good example of this. Hannah (tenant, Filipino) and Daniel (landlord, Korean) agreed on an apartment contract with Hannah paying $1,800 for the security deposit. Hannah’s lease was supposed to start in 40 days. Twelve days later, however, Hannah told Daniel that she was canceling the contract. Hannah demanded the whole security deposit back, but Daniel refused saying Hannah’s cancellation caused him to pay for a brokerage fee ($1,000) to find another tenant plus additional costs like reducing the security deposit for the new tenant for moving immediately. Take note that there was no penalty clause for cancellations before moving in stated in the contract.

Daniel, the landlord, knew the relevant law and court procedures really well, because he dealt with difficult tenants all the time. He held fast to the letter of the law and challenged Hannah’s claim to the security deposit. He felt justified and motivated to keep the money given the expenses he was incurring due to Hannah’s last minute change of mind. Hannah, on the other hand, felt that because she had not even moved in yet, there were no reasons for the security deposit to be kept at all. She had done no damage to the apartment, and her lease still had not technically started. I looked at the California law on landlord-tenant regulation, and I also looked up the Contracts case book for breaching the contract in Common Law. I found that under the California code, the landlord should use the security deposit only for back rent fee or the repairs. It seemed at this point that Daniel should give the security deposit back to Hannah. But, as Hannah breached the agreement by cancelling it without defense or justification (it seemed she just changed her mind), there was room for compromise from both of them.

After conciliating with them, both agreed to a mutual solution: Daniel would give back $1,000 to Hannah after her compromise of $800. Both parties also agreed to let the matter go at this junction and move forward. Although legal knowledge played a big role in this case, I don’t believe that it was the most important factor in settling this case. Building a rapport by good and active listening skill showing empathy and sympathy, making the parties comfortable for the options proved to be far more critical. I am happy that everybody is happy!

Creating a Forum for Community Dialogue and Action in Japan

creatingaforum

After leaving the APADRC as Program Director and arriving in Tokyo this past August, time has been peeling away as I’ve acclimated.  There has been so much to learn: new cultural norms, language, re-establishing a routine, growing familiar with the institutions of International Christian University (ICU) where I am an MA graduate student, and getting to know the other 9 Rotary Peace Fellows and many other students here.  This spring though, I am dedicated to becoming more active in my community and on the ICU campus to bring new resources and trainings in collaboration with the APADRC and other organizations.

Every week I have been partnering with an organization called Space Hachinoko, which is a hub for social welfare and education related groups and activities.  I spend time conversing in English with women and mothers who are looking to improve their English-speaking abilities, usually in anticipation of returning to the job market.  The organization also include a daycare center and after school care program, a clinic, organic cafe, and various support groups for non-Japanese residents living in the area.  All of these activities are supported and run by the collaboration of parents, staff, and volunteers.

The topics in these conversations vary week to week, but I have been learning about the challenges that particularly mothers face in Japanese society.  For example, the center helps support the children of non-Japanese families with after-school tutoring and support.  I can testify first-hand how challenging the Japanese language is!  Additionally, the organization just gave crowd-funded assistance for the first time ever to a young college-bound woman had needed to pay for her college registration, but her financial aid wouldn’t arrive until the following month.  Because both of her parents were between jobs at the time, she was ineligible for bank loans, and Space Hachinoko helped raise enough money to cover her registration.  It is heartening to have found this organization, affirming that there are incredible grassroots community organizations everywhere, working to support immigrant, non-native language speakers through the ups and downs of navigating cultural and bureaucratic challenges of their new homes.

This January, a delegation of undergraduate students from the University of the Free State, South Africa came to visit the ICU campus.  These student leaders came as part of the “Leadership for Change” program, which was a prevention intervention program launched in 2010 in response to racially motivated tensions and incidents on the campus.  I was honored to spend a good deal of time with these student leaders in both informal settings such as karaoke, and was honored when they invited me to give a presentation on mediation and the work of the APADRC.  Many of the students in the program were also medical students, and so they were very interested in the idea of using mediation as an alternative to litigation in their practices, as only one or two of them had ever heard of mediation before.  They also bravely offered to wake up a little earlier one morning if I would give a basic communication and conflict styles training, which we arranged for the day before their departure back to South Africa.  This was also their first introduction to these communication concepts, and we explored listening, communication styles, and diversity within the group.  At the end of the training one of the students presented me with a beautiful beaded bracelet that she had made that is popular and generally sold by beach vendors in South Africa.  I think that it was that moment where I was truly awed at how from Los Angeles and South Africa we were brought to Tokyo in order for this exchange of ideas, friendship and inspiration to take place, and felt blessed.

Also in January, I coordinated a workshop that brought Lissette Lorenz, a Shansi fellow from Oberlin, to ICU to introduce Theater of the Oppressed (TO) principles and exercises.  I was originally introduced to Theater of the Oppressed through the work of Gender Justice LA, ImaginAction, and eventually participated in an LA workshop facilitated by Sarah Shourd, one of the three American hikers detained in Iran in 2009.  TO is a model of community-based theater developed by Nobel Peace Prize nominee Augusto Boal. First started in Brazil, Boal’s native country, it has been practiced around the world for over 40 years.  The goal of TO is for participants to dramatically analyze real-life oppressions/obstacles/challenges they face and act out potential solutions to overcome them. The theater process thus empowers participants to go out into the world and take action against the oppression, using the very solutions they tried out during scene work. TO is, according to Boal, “rehearsal for the revolution.”

We had an incredibly diverse group of participants, including individuals from Sri Lanka, Russia, Thailand, Japan, and the U.S.  For all of these participants, this was their first introduction to Theater of the Oppressed.  In the workshop space, we explored a number of social issues relevant to the group’s issues and concerns, including the role of language and power dynamics on the university campus.  ICU offers courses in both English and Japanese, and so challenges arise in the classroom as students struggle to understand and express themselves in a non-native language.  In one of our Forum Theater plays, we explored ways in which teachers, non-native speakers and native speakers could make the university classroom a safer and more supportive environment for the open sharing of ideas.

Although it has been challenging to leave the incredibly vibrant mediation community of Los Angeles, I am excited to share these concepts and ideas with my new community here in Tokyo.  Whenever I speak about mediation or the APADRC and its role in peacebuilding across diverse communities in Los Angeles, I have been received by students and teachers positively and they show a tremendous interest in learning more.  I am excited to announce that our next large-scale project that will be taking place this spring is the APADRC’s first international Community Mediation training on the ICU campus!  We will be offering the training to Rotary Peace Fellows, Japanese Grant Aid for Human Resource Development Scholarship (JDS) Fellows, and ICU students, staff and faculty.  Stay updated by making sure to sign up for our newsletter (if you haven’t done so already) and please consider making a donation to help support the APADRC’s work in offering trainings and our other incredible programs.  From my perspective across the Pacific ocean, I can only tell you that my experience has reaffirmed how unique the APADRC is in its legacy and commitment to supporting the API community in Los Angeles and building bridges of peace across LA’s diverse communities through conflict resolution and mediation.  I send my appreciation and support to all of the incredible staff, volunteers, teacher sponsors, peer mediators and supporters that help make sure that these incredible services are available and look forward to seeing you all again soon!

Bridging Cultural and Generational Conflicts in Mediation

One morning, a Chinese single mother called the DRC. The first thing she asked us was if we could kick her daughter out of the house. I heard this and I felt what she said was very strange. Why did she want to kick her own daughter out of her house? So, I asked her to speak slowly and tell me the whole story.

This mother told me that she has a daughter, her only child, and this daughter was born and raised in Los Angeles. She raised her daughter with a lot of passion and energy and eventually, her daughter was able to attend one of the best university in Los Angeles. Last year, the daughter graduated and was then able to find a decent job. Not long after this, she started dating someone younger than her who was still attending college.

Ever since her daughter started dating this boy, she would often come home very late, and one day her mother discovered birth control pills in her daughter’s car. The mother has always paid a lot of attention to her daughter’s education and upbringing. She is also very proud that her daughter was able to attend a very good university. However, growing up in a very conservative and traditional environment in China, the mother couldn’t accept that her daughter was coming home late every night and presumably, having sex with her boyfriend. She felt very ashamed of her daughter’s behavior. As the mother spoke to me, she used some very extreme language denoting her anger and disappointment at her daughter.

I initiated a call to the daughter after taking the mother’s intake. The daughter and I conversed in English which allowed her to better express her feelings and speak the truth of her thoughts. The daughter became very emotional during our conversation. She agreed that what her mother told me was the truth, but she felt even more pain than her mother. She could not stand the very harsh and cold language her mother used anymore. She felt like she had to remain silent ever since she was little, because her mother never gave her the chance to speak up. However, though she felt like she was unfairly treated by her mother, she also understood how important she was to her. She knew of the sacrifices her mother did just for her, never going out with her own friends so she could be at home with her. But, she also didn’t want to compromise the relationship she had with her boyfriend.

This case presented us with a few challenges:

  1. There is a cultural conflict as the values of the mother and daughter are different
  2. There is a generation gap. The mother and daughter grew up in different times and circumstances; they have different attitudes towards what proper sexual conduct between couples should be.
  3. The mother believes that her daughter failed to live up to so many years of upbringing as the mother believes that her daughter does not know how much effort was put into raising her; the daughter believes that she has put up with a lot of her mother’s  harshness for many years and that the mother does not understand her.

We saw that the way to successfully solve this case was to guide the mother and the daughter to understand and accept the differences between each other.

We realized that both parties are upset with the other on certain issues, but at the same time they still very much love each other. The mother had always prioritized her daughter’s well-being and the daughter also dearly appreciated her mother. Their common interest was maintaining a healthy mother-daughter relationship.

These factors allowed us to know before beginning mediation that there was hope of repairing the relationship. We hoped to help the mother understand her daughter’s lifestyle while ensuring that the two will mutually support each other in the future. In order to help both sides better express their feelings during mediation, we spoke to the mother in Chinese and in English with the daughter. Our bilingual mediators allowed for smoother communication between both sides.

In this case, the mediation had limited success in that because the mother was ultimately unable to flex some of the ideals she carried to allow for acceptance of her daughter’s perspective. However, both sides did make some concessions: while the daughter has moved out, the mother has been providing some financial support for her independence. Most importantly, according to our follow-up investigation, their relationship has remained stable, with the daughter still regularly coming back home for dinner and with both sides mutually supporting each other. This is the beauty of mediation.

 

APADRC 40-Hour Basic Mediation Training Registration

When communication breaks down and conflict arises, how can you address it constructively? What steps can you take to improve your communication and conflict resolution skills?

The APADRC is offering a 40-hour Basic Mediation Training with an emphasis on building cross-cultural competency. Open to all members of the community, this highly interactive training will introduce effective communication strategies, multicultural conflict resolution and peach theory, all with a full day of role plays with coaches from the APADRC – preparing you to act as a neutral mediator in community conflicts.

The training is a combination of online, self-directed material and in-person sessions and fits the minimum requirements of the State of California Dispute Resolution Programs Act for mediation training. Participants will receive a “Certificate of Attendance” upon completion of the entire 40 hours.

To register and for more information, you can check out our registration page: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/viewform?formkey=dE51ZkZGYXh1M21tbDlKQ1g4d3EzQWc6MA#gid=0

Four Ways to Improve Your Constructive Feedback

Four Ways to Improve Your Constructive Feedback

By Jennie Li

Giving (and receiving) feedback is an important aspect of developing ourselves personally and professionally. However, it can often be a source of anxiety and contention, especially when presented without tact. In this article, we’ll examine some ways to help smooth out your feedback style.

1.       Preparation is key.

Like most undertakings, presenting your opinion well requires preparation. Thinking about who the person is, the kind of feedback you’d like to give them, and the ways they might receive your feedback are all aspects of being prepared. Giving a little thought to the issues you’d like to present to the person will allow you to present your thoughts in a more organized and confident fashion, perhaps even saving you from last minute tongue spluttering.

4.       Care about the person and the issue.

Our intentions manifest in the way we speak. The premise of constructive feedback, improvement through inviting other perspectives, speaks to me as an act of fundamental good faith. When you are able to emotionally invest in the wellbeing of the people and the issues at stake, your constituents will be able to see this through both your verbal and nonverbal communication styles.

2.       A spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down.

Constructive feedback means giving a balanced assessment. Like writing a story, it is important to switch up the kind of information you give – hearing only about problems can put your listener into a set mode (feeling defensive, or hurt). The danger here lies in the fact that without any distinction between the kinds of information you are giving, the story is  flat, and your individual points are lost in the monotony. Sandwiching suggested improvements with positive feedback can make the information more palatable, and easier to remember as well!

3.       Don’t tell, ask instead.

Hearing feedback as a demand can cause us to raise our instinctive hackles. Remember, your feedback is an opinion and a suggestion! Ultimately, we are our own masters of our actions. Phrasing your critique as a request is one way of disarming the defenses, and it recognizes the power of the critiqued as the one to implement their own improvements.

The 12th Annual Conversity Award Reception and Fundraiser

Get ready for the APADRC”s 12th Annual Conversity Awards!

Each year, Asian Pacific American Dispute Resolution Center (APADRC) holds an annual fundraising event called Conversity to raise funds to sustain our organization and continue offering free to low-cost mediation services in the communities and schools. As a small nonprofit focused solely on conflict resolution, this fundraiser is significant to our annual budget.

Although society may still not utilize mediation often, they are concerned about what causes the need for mediation, namely conflicts between people that can cause major psychological stress, physical violence including gun violence. By the time someone has been shot to death or had their property severely vandalized, the situation has already gone beyond the point of no return. However, if the conflict had been referred to a local community mediation center, maybe the disputants would have been guided by a skilled mediator that would have helped them communicate their needs in order to find a fair resolution. People often resort to desperate acts because they feel that they’re not being heard and that they have been treated unfairly with no recourse to achieve justice.  If mediation is used more frequently and earlier in the conflict, there might be fewer shootings like the ones that are now in the news every day.

APADRC is unique because of its language capacity in Asian languages as well as English and Spanish. We also have had a long history of working in schools with large African American and Latino student populations. We embrace diversity and cultures. Our vision is to help people of diverse cultures understand each other and see the commonality that we all share.

We hope you will join us on April 17th to celebrate the individuals that will receive awards for having done great work in the community. Come and share our vision and become a supporter of peace.

On our website homepage, you will see a link to Conversity that will have pictures of past events and information on how you can buy a ticket or sponsor the event.

Click here to get to that page: http://apadrc.org/aboutus/conversity

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Helping Day Laborers Recover Wages

By Julia Blandon, Conflict Resolution Specialist

It is early morning and the sun is rising. The usual city noises are drowned in silence. You get into your vehicle and head to work. You arrive. Today you will be working on replacing floors, changing walls, re-tiling, and painting. As strenuous as it is, the need to provide for yourself and your family keeps you motivated. At the end of the day, your foreman delays your payment to the following week. A week becomes two. Two become three, and so forth. You are becoming desperate for assistance. How you can go about getting your work’s pay?

CC Image courtesy of Hoong Wei Long on Flickr

I see many work-related cases like these in my work as a Conflict Resolution Specialist at the Asian Pacific Dispute Resolution Center (APADRC). In working with the Latino community, I assist many people who work in some form of construction. They seek out the APADRC’s assistance in obtaining wages they are owed when their employer fails to pay them. It is the first time most of these clients have ever used mediation services, so I explain the process clearly.

Many different facets go into initiating a case. First, we get as many details as possible from the clients regarding the dispute. Additional documentation can be useful but is not necessary. Second, we attain the contact information of both individuals to seek or relay facts. Not having proper contact information can prolong the mediation process. Lastly, we explain to the clients that as mediators we take a neutral role between the individuals in conflict, and that all information will remain confidential. It is most imperative to highlight to clients that mediation is a voluntary process. I often try to remind them that all parties must willingly agree to participate and that no one can be forced. Communicating these three facets of mediation gives the clients a better understanding of the process.

Naturally, challenges arise once a case is opened. One of the difficulties occurs when there is a lack of documentation. Often times it is difficult for the workers to attain proof of the amount they are owed. Employers may take advantage of this situation and choose to flex their power rather than cooperate or there could be circumstances why they didn’t pay the full amount that the worker expected. In every situation it is important to communicate well with the employer and understand their side of the situation.

CC Image courtesy of pamlane on Flickr

Frequently, I hear workers saying that they have been made fearful of exercising their rights. This could be addressed by providing awareness workshops with referring organizations. These workshops would help protect workers by encouraging them to become conscious of useful information such as attaining the correct name of the employer, as well as a functioning phone number. Having these workshops would also serve the purpose to create a network of support amongst workers. Here, they can share their experiences and offer any advice to fellow workers.

I have been an intern with the APADRC for about three months, and I have learned a great deal in refining my communication skills. At times, figuring out how I will begin communicating with the employer can be a challenge, and I have learned to be more attentive and empathetic towards both parties. This has helped me gain insight or important information from either the employer or employee. Often times it is easy to assume that the employer is in the wrong, but as a neutral third party, I remind myself that it is important to understand what difficulties the employer may also be facing. No matter what the outcome may be it is important to remember that I am there to assist both individuals..

UC Berkeley Winter Externship Reflection: Choosing a Career in Conflict Resolution

by Tiffany Hoang, 2013 UC Berkeley Winter Extern.

One doesn’t expect the work of four days to yield very visible results. Though when it comes to externing with the Asian Pacific American Dispute Resolution Center (APADRC), I feel I have grown so much as a result of four days that synthesizing the experience into one page comes as a challenging task. What I can say is that my short time at the APADRC has contributed to my growth both personally and professionally. I think being a senior in my undergraduate studies has a lot to do with it, so it makes me particularly thankful that this opportunity presented itself when it did.

On the one hand, mediation training was two-fold in helping me translate theory into practice while allowing me to reflect on who I am as an individual and how that relates to the work I do. Through the workshop exercises, I can identify myself as an “indirect communicator”, a moderate expresser of emotions, and a “conflict avoider.” I know that I’ve acquired most of these attributes from my parents, and may stem from being an immigrant and learning the mindset that one  acquires when adapting to a new country. Contrarily, the avoidance of conflict in my upbringing allowed a level of ignorance that ultimately led me to where I am today- a student in Peace and Conflict Studies.  This also explains my receptiveness to new ideas, which I learned is a desired trait for mediators. Therefore I am realizing that even though overt conflict has not played a strong presence in my life, my desire to satisfy curiosities nonetheless allows me to seek out situations where mediation or alternative dispute resolutions can be utilized to yield more peaceful outcomes. Moreover, the mediation training from the APADRC has provided me with a skill set that I feel confident in practicing in my own life and in lending in the service of others, if and when the opportunity arises.

Additionally, I found that working on site with Program Director, Claire Doran, to be an experiential way to learn about networking skills that are vital to non-profit work. I enjoyed watching Claire interact with community partners, and appreciated her encouragement for us to interact with these partners as well. I was able to practice carrying a conversation by connecting on a mutual point of reference and asking questions. I also found it valuable to hear that reaching out does not just mean connecting with the community your organization serves, but also “pulling in all aspects of yourself.” That is, keeping in touch with all the communities you associate yourself with, past and present. It was nice to know that I didn’t need to leave one side of myself to pursue the other, but that in fact, there is a purpose for all skills and aspects of myself in the non-profit profession, and I could use them to my creativity. These skills will be valuable for helping me move forward as I make the transition from student to professional.

All in all, spending these past few days with the APADRC was most important in reaffirming the path that I have chosen. Pursuing a profession in Peace and Conflict Resolution is not a common direction for many people, but knowing that it is out there gives me hope that I can do it too, and find success doing it as well. Thank you to Claire Doran and the APADRC community for hosting such a wonderful externship program. I look forward to returning to the APADRC soon to lend my services in any way that I can. Your organization is an invaluable asset to the community, and I am thankful to have been a part of it for this short time.

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The Last Train to Good Neighbor

By Dominik Onate

We all have a general understanding of what it means to be good neighbors. Good neighbors are friendly and courteous; they greet you hello whenever they see you. Good neighbors are helpful and kind. They help you carry heavy groceries, and they may lend you a book, a pot or any other item if you needed and asked for it. Too often, however, the idea of a good neighbor becomes distilled into proscriptive variants of rules of behavior. Good neighbors do not have loud parties. Good neighbors do not let their trees grow too big. From all the neighbor disputes that we have received at the APADRC, one rule, one statement reigns supreme when it comes to good neighborly behavior: Good neighbors don’t bother me.

This idea that neighbors can simply ignore one another is, of course, problematic as evidenced by the number of cases we receive about neighbors having issues with each other. For the most part, people can get by leaving one another alone. But in situations where they have to communicate—because of a tree branch extending into their property, or a noisy dog barking at night—neighbors can find the situation awkward and difficult. This often leads to all kinds of miscommunications, negative perceptions, and immobilizing or abusive arguments. A case that we had early this year, for example, centered on a tree dispute which had escalated to the point where one party was threatening to spray the trees to death. The communications between the parties were composed of nothing but a series of accusations (“Your parties are too loud! You spy on my house!”). The unfortunate trees had no say in the matter. Another case we had concerned an elderly Chinese lady who took issue about the way that her neighbor used the bingo room. She ended up getting into a highly aggressive argument with him eventually describing him to us as scary, cold, and mean. In many of these cases, the first argument marks the first time that the neighbors have actually communicated with one another aside from the usual distanced recognition of presence, if there was ever any. It certainly makes the task of mediating between them even more difficult, because there is no foundation of trust or respect to begin with.

The problems with lack of communication between neighbors can also manifest in underhanded and snide ways, especially in communities like senior housing complexes where common use areas can become ripe with behaviors like gossiping and bullying. We recently provided a communication and empowerment workshop to one such senior community experiencing these kinds of behaviors. According to their housing coordinator who called us in, there was gossip going around the complex about certain people and this was hurting not just the old tenants, but also all those who were coming in as new members. One tenant, and active workshop participant, put it this way:

I used to collect all the cans and bottles around the complex. I did this, because I wanted to help my neighbors and because the money was used to buy food for our monthly meetings. However, people started saying that I was pocketing some of the money from the recycling. It is not true! I never did that! I did that out of my heart. Now, I don’t do it anymore, because it hurt me.

When we asked the other neighbors what they thought about the gossiping and the intimidations, some said that they were just not familiar enough with each other to dismiss the gossip as lies. For all they knew, the stories they were hearing could very well be true. During the workshop, we encouraged the neighbors to talk about what they thought were good neighborly behaviors. Many pointed out that respect, friendliness, and trust were key to living in a closed environment like theirs, and they all acknowledged the importance of communicating directly with their neighbors to prevent the spread of unreliable information.

These cases serve to show that the practice of good communication between neighbors, even if minimal, is integral to retaining a relationship that is often times solely based on boundaries and disinterest. Furthermore, they highlight the need for community building particularly in closed environments like senior housing facilities. Communication workshops, group facilitations, and one-on-one mediations are some steps to take that may help address those issues between neighbors. These safe spaces allow the people involved to share their thoughts openly with one another, and this may create new relationships, strengthen the ones already developed or at the very least, raise awareness of their ties to one another as neighbors and community members.

As a community mediator, I believe in good faith efforts to improve relationships through open communication. As I have seen with our cases, many of the situations our clients find themselves in are consequences of miscommunication or due to the absence of positive dialogue between the parties. These situations make me feel that it’s unfortunate that some situations develop in that way, but I’m also hopeful that with appropriate help, often through mediation or facilitation, any party can move on from their dispute.

All in all, I encourage those facing communication problems or other kinds of disputes with another person or within a group to try mediation or facilitation. It’s a wonderful process that empowers you as an individual and as a community member to respond to your neighbor, friend, or dare I say it, enemy, in a positive and constructive way..

Cyber-Bullying Youth Mediation

By Janice Son

Navigating through high school is arguably one of the most challenging life stages for adolescents. The high school student’s academic career generally consists of scouting for attractions, looking for friends, carefully watching for foes, and of course, managing his or her workload.  With the perpetuating force of the digital age, students have the opportunity to utilize tools which can extend their perception of reality and communication in ways that we could only dream of.

However, with the birth of technology/social media, high school students often encounter bullying in the cyber world, which can have negative effects on their reality.  As a peer mediation coordinator for King Drew High School, I have mediated several cases that address issues such as bullying/cyber-bullying and various relationship entanglements. I have observed through these mediation sessions that a common thread throughout is the communication breakdown that threatens each student’s fragile sense of identity and how others perceive him or her. The peer mediation program at King Drew High School provides a student-facilitated safe-space for disputants to express their relational woes with one another.

One particular case that stands out is a student-referred cyber bully and sexual harassment case. In the spirit of confidentiality, I will use fictitious names for the student participants. The two disputants were Briana, an African-American female, and Devon, an African-American male. Two peer mediators, who were carefully selected based on relevant experience, began the process with the introductions and then stated purpose of the mediation session.  A list of ground rules were set and the disputants were assured that the peer mediators would maintain neutrality and honor confidentiality.

After this introduction, Briana began by sharing her version of the situation.  She stated that she and Devon had been close friends. One day on Facebook, she instant-messaged Devon “hey,” an informal greeting for, “how are you.” His response was a series of inappropriate comments, which triggered negative emotions for Briana. When Briana attended school the next day, she discovered that several other girls had experienced the same situation. The problem escalated to a campus-wide flurry of rumors, gossip, and threats towards Devon.  While Briana was speaking, I noticed evidence of self-mutilation, which raised red flags and concerns (I will come back to this in a moment).

One of the peer mediators continued the process by asking Devon for his side of the story. He stated that his Facebook account was “hacked” or taken over by an unidentifiable “someone.” After 30 minutes of diligent questioning and probing by the peer mediators, we uncovered that the “hackers” were, in fact, Devon’s friends. At this point, Devon apologized for his friends’ “immature” behavior and assured Briana that he did not mean any harm. He also promised that he would not allow his friends to make any remarks towards her in that manner in the future. Briana responded by acknowledging that he was not solely responsible for his friend’s behavior and accepted his apology.  This kind of conversation between them could have only occurred through a supportive environment like mediation.

In this particular peer mediation case, we were not only able to clarify the situation and encourage a peaceable resolution between Briana and Devon, but we were also able to identify hidden “cutting” issues and get Briana the help that she needs.  Briana is now working closely with her counselor to identify her internal struggles along with following a set plan that will help coach her through her emotions.

The purpose for this article is not to chastise social media sites, but to highlight external factors that influence the educational space. Ultimately, peer mediation provides students with the option to see heated situations from a neutral perspective, provides communication tools, such as using “I” statements, and allows for a period of reflection.  My hope for the next year is to create more workshops to help promote and equip students with better communication tools to navigate high school with healthier relationships..