“A Third Party”
By: Andrew Mathews
Prior to working for the APADRC as a Conflict Resolution Specialist, I had very little knowledge about mediation or the process and skills needed for the position. I quickly learned that patience and persistence play a significant role in the success or failure of the mediator and case. Our training sessions emphasize the importance of remaining neutral and impartial, but I quickly learned how difficult that could be. One of the first cases assigned to me dealt with a group of international college students and their University’s Student Housing program. The square footage of the apartment was significantly smaller than advertised and the students felt they were being taken advantage of. English, after all, was their second language, and they were new to how things operated here in the United States. After attempting to resolve the issue repeatedly to no avail, the students started to feel like they had exhausted all of their energies and time. After finding out about the APADRC, the students contacted us for assistance, and we were able to mediate a settlement that included a reduction in the rent and a refund of the previous rent checks previously paid by the students to the university. The negotiation process and settlement agreement took several months with several phone calls between the parties and myself, but it was worth it in the end.
I feel that we provided a beneficial service to both the international students and the university because we were able to help them communicate in their respective languages in a constructive and efficacious way. This case highlights the importance of having a person who speaks a party’s language fluently in order to capture the nuances of their words as well as convey to them the opportunity for change and agreement in an efficient manner.
For many non-native English speakers, the APADRC is a valuable resource. I take great pride in being a balanced mediator who possesses skills as simple as being able to open the door to constructive communication, a powerful tool that I had previously undervalued. These kinds of cases remind me that what we do here as volunteers, the time and the emotions we invest, go beyond just a case number and into the individuals themselves. There is a humanistic element that underlies all of our cases and all of our work as mediators. Thought we strive to be a neutral third party, it does not preclude our feelings of empathy and sympathy. In fact, it necessitates it, and cases like this, as well as the people that I work with in the center, constantly and wonderfully remind me of that.