February 4, 1999
Vol. 18 No. 9

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    [matt flynn, zach white, and dan klein], by lloyd degrane  
    Third-year Dan Klein (at right) founded the student group Peer Mediation to help resolve student conflicts––typically those that arise between roommates. He and eight other students have trained as mediators including second-year Zach White (center) and third-year Matt Flynn.

    Student program uses ever-growing conflict-resolution tool––mediation

    By Jennifer Leovy
    News Office

    Third-year student Dan Klein recognizes that most often conflict between people is not a matter of one person being right and the other being wrong. He knows that truth usually lies somewhere in between.

    To resolve student conflicts, especially those that may arise in student housing, Klein has founded the University’s Peer Mediation program.

    Klein and a group of eight other Chicago students have undergone a specialized program of peer mediation training to provide mediation services for students and their organizations.

    Klein sees peer mediation as a constructive means to solving problems such as roommate conflicts, but he feels more strongly about its long-term effects––building a campus community in which college students feel supported by the University and one another.

    “I believe the program will contribute to making the University a place in which students can communicate more directly and honestly,” said Klein.

    After reviewing Klein’s proposal, Ed Turkington, Dean of Student Services, agreed to sponsor the program. Klein said he appreciates the University’s support, noting sponsorship of a mediation program “makes a statement about its intrinsic value and about what we value in our community.”

    Turkington said that in the past, “the tools we had to operate with had been our own informal attempts to settle an issue or to deal with it as a disciplinary matter.” Either way, students were not resolving issues on their own. That opportunity became available Winter Quarter when Student Services and housing staff began referring students to Peer Mediation when appropriate. Turkington said most student conflicts, such as roommate issues, do not warrant disciplinary responses from the administration. Peer mediation lends itself to conflicts where no rules have been broken and “there isn’t a clear right and wrong side,” he added.

    Last fall, Klein and eight other undergraduates trained to be mediators. The Center for Conflict Resolution in Chicago, a not-for-profit agency, conducted a three-day training program on campus. The center teaches mediators to facilitate effective communication to identify the “real” conflict and develop solutions with the opposing parties’ input.

    “We offer students a confidential alternative to resolving issues. Mediation can help students work out problems before they get more serious and require official administrative intervention,” said Klein.

    A peer mediator is a neutral, third party who uses negotiating skills to help parties in a dispute discover underlying issues and develop solutions that meet their needs. Mediation is confidential and voluntary, and the mediator does not make decisions about the outcome.

    “Initially, people come in upset, needing to vent, but over the course of mediation, lines of communication open and both sides see what’s really going on, what they’re really upset about,” said Klein. He used the example of two friends who have a rift after one accidentally damages the other’s expensive jacket and does nothing about it. One friend wants the jacket replaced while the other cannot understand a friend’s anger over an accident.

    Initially, each person argues his or her case. Then the mediator asks questions of each party, validating the emotions of both parties while getting them to see one another’s perspectives. “Often, we find out that the incident that brought people to mediation is a flash point for a greater problem. In this case, the real problem could be one student feels disrespected while the other feels betrayed,” said Klein. When underlying problems come out and both sides understand one another, solutions to the conflict come fairly quickly––the entire process usually takes an hour, Klein explained.

    Mediation can improve communication skills, and students can gain a heightened awareness of the impact their words and actions have on others. Peer mediator Lisa Kutlin said skills such as neutralizing language demonstrate mediation’s effectiveness in settling disputes.

    “Before the training, if I was trying to help people reach an agreement, I would tend to ignore comments that were purposely offensive,” Kutlin explained. She learned through training that “sometimes emotion is the issue at hand. Avoiding the statement may actually be a mistake.

    “Personal and professional relationships can only benefit from more effective communication,” Kutlin added.

    Anticipating success for Peer Mediation, Turkington emphasized that “problem solving often comes down to a willingness for people to try to reach some common ground,” and Klein suggests that Peer Mediation will help all members of the University community find that common ground.