Mediation center aids in solving conflicts

by Kascha B. Semon | 5/8/98 5:00am

If your roommate insists on letting her Chihuahua sleep in your bed or you can't use your keyboard because of the Diet Coke she spills on it every time she borrows your computer, it's time to contact the Dartmouth Community Mediation Center.

As long as you both volunteer to solve these difficult issues, volunteers at the DCMC may be able to help you. The DCMC offers an alternative way to resolve conflicts not only between roommates, but within student organization, friends and even faculty.

The center trains faculty and students in conflict resolution methods, providing them with a "toolbox of techniques" to solve the variety of problems that arise in different cases, according to DCMC President Amy Foust '99.

Mediators receive 15 to 30 hours of training either through a retreat or weekly session on campus. Former College Rabbi Daniel Siegel taught the participants a process called cooperative dispute mediation. In this method, the mediator helps disputants generate options but does not judge the solutions or offer opinions.

"We don't enter the conversations," Foust said. "We help keep the environment fair."

Foust, a biochemistry major, decided to be trained as a mediator after undergoing mediation herself. She preferred not to comment on the circumstances of the conflict, but she said she "was very impressed with the results of the process."

Foust said other people apply to be mediators "because they feel like they're the peace keepers within their social circles." She said the center gives them more techniques to deal with the problems.

Like many others who come to the DCMC for help, Foust was referred to the center by Dean of First Year Students Peter Goldsmith. The deans as well as the Office of Residential Life often see students involved in a conflict appropriate for mediation and inform them of the DCMC's services. The center is currently trying to reach more students through ORL referrals and build up its publicity to make the center more accessible.

Foust said certain types of conflicts cannot be resolved through mediation. She said the DCMC can handle complicated issues, but since the center has no authority to enforce the solutions, mediation is not appropriate when serious threats have been made to a disputant's safety.

"If it's about dirty clothes, we can handle it," said Foust.

Students contact mediators by e-mailing or calling the DCMC directly. Both parties must consent to using mediation, and the DCMC allows the disputants to select their mediator from a list of trained students and faculty.

Depending on the type of conflict, students may request a faculty member rather than undergraduate for mediation. Also, certain disputants can request gender- or race-specific mediation. Dean of Student Life Holly Sateia coordinates the faculty mediators and advises the undergraduates.

The actual mediating sessions which follow vary depending on the nature and complexity of the issue. The center faces the most cases during Freshman Fall between new roommates, but still mediates several cases a term later in the year for other situations.

DCMC Vice President Erin Gross '99 said even though mediators are often students, confidentiality has never been a problem to her knowledge. She has mediated conflicts for students she knew outside of DCMC involvement.

Gross herself became involved in mediation when she attended a mediation program for Undergraduate Advisors. Although she does not plan to use mediation directly in a future career, Gross said mediation is a "valuable skill to have in terms of everyday interactions."

In addition to their work with the College community, mediators also volunteer at the small claims court for Windsor County, Vt. Citizens usually bring claims for small dollar amounts and present their cases to a judge who can award damages. A case coordinator may divert the case to a mediator if it appears appropriate for mediation.

According to Foust, these methods are "really helpful in a small community" like those in the Upper Valley. She said the methods "work an amazing amount of the time."

She added, however, that disputants must want to use a mediator, and the judicial system often effectively solves other cases. If the plaintiff's goal is monetary compensation, "that's a very good case for an adversarial system," Foust said.

The DCMC also provides other services through its external programming department, coordinated by Gross. The group works with the Hanover High School Peer Mediation Center and the Vermont Law School, as well as with campus organizations. Mediators have also run workshops at Greek organizations and for student government.