by Emily Boyd, 2013 UC Berkeley Winter Extern.
Although I do not see myself pursuing a future in mediation, my externship with the APADRC has provided me with invaluable experiences. Each day I learned so many things regarding mediation, office work, non-profit organizations, and myself. Despite the short time frame, or perhaps because of it, every day was filled with new and interesting experiences.
I quickly learned that working in non-profit requires you to take on many different roles. It is necessary to be competent in both service and business. Perhaps what surprised me the most was the role that social media played in the business aspect. I never suspected that maintaining active Facebook and Twitter pages would play such a key role in attracting new clients, which is essential for an organization such as the APADRC, for without clients, the mediators would have no one to provide their services to. They are also essential for establishing and maintaining connections within the dispute resolution community. The meetings we attended were fascinating and diverse as well. During one meeting, when we discussed different examples of conflict, I quickly discovered the complexity of mediation. While it may seem straightforward on paper, dealing with real people and real situations often becomes complex and convoluted, which makes the role of the mediator anything but straightforward. In another meeting, I discovered more of the business end of the organization, one that involves developing and establishing connections within the community, which allows a nonprofit to continually expand and reach a greater spectrum of clientele.
I also spent a short amount of time researching how mediation works when the clients have psychiatric disabilities. Through this research, I discovered my favorite aspect of alternate dispute resolution: its ability to empower people. It is actually encouraged for people with mental disabilities to participate in mediation because it offers a way of reducing stress through problem prevention and gives them a sense of control over their own lives. The entire process helps individuals develop self-confidence in their abilities to develop solutions to their own problems and creates a sense of empowerment. It also helps improve real world problem-solving and social skills. While this is especially true for mental health patients, it is applicable to all people, and is, in my opinion, one of the strongest arguments for mediation as a tool for conflict resolution.
However, my favorite day was the mediation training day provided by the APADRC. While I expected to learn about the mediation process and the mediator’s role, I never expected that I would learn so much about myself and human nature in general. It was amazing to me that within about fifteen minutes in the room all together, such a safe space was created that complete strangers of all different age groups, backgrounds, and lifestyles felt comfortable sharing about themselves and discussing their thoughts on a variety of often touchy subjects such as race and immigration. It was so refreshing to feel that my ideas were listened to, respected, and seriously considered by people sometimes much older than me, and I also loved hearing their ideas in return, even if they sometimes completely opposed my views. The entire experience caused me to consider how humans relate to each other. I think the ability humans have to connect with and love one another is one of our best features. If we only remember to treat everyone with kindness and have an open heart, we can form lasting and wonderful relationships with just about anyone. I believe that in mediation, if the disputants come in with good intentions, then this characteristic will shine through and a resolution will eventually be able to be achieved.
All in all, I am extremely grateful that Claire and the UC Berkeley Career Center were able to organize this externship for us. Each second, from being in the office, to car rides, to meetings and training, and even to a delicious Ethiopian lunch, was filled with intellectual exchanges that taught me so much. I was able to experience the difficult and the rewarding sides of working in nonprofit, and although I am not quite sure of exactly what I want my future to look like, I know that I want to spend at least some of it working in nonprofit. Any kind of organization, whether it’s one that provides mediation like the APADRC or something completely different, provides extremely valuable and rewarding experiences if you are passionate about the service you are providing..