The following situation was submitted to The School Mediator newsletter. Some details were changed to protect the identity of the school.
I am a school counselor and have coordinated a peer mediation program in my high school for four years. We have had a great run, and the administration sincerely feels that peer mediation is one of the best programs we have ever implemented.
After our initial year, I started using veteran student mediators to select the next team of trainees. Pairs of veterans conduct private interviews with each applicant, scoring them in a variety of categories on a scale of 1 to 10. This has worked wonderfully.
One of the applicants this year is a young man named Angel. Angel is one of very few "out" gay students in our building. (Of course, there are likely more gay students that I don't know about.)
Angel first came out about his sexual orientation last Spring. Many students and staff reacted inappropriately to his revelation, and Angel was confronted with subtle and some not so subtle harassment. Disciplinary action was taken against a few students, but the overall climate has not improved.
There is a paper-thin "let's accept diversity" veneer, but scratch the surface and people from the Principal on down are uncomfortable with anything to do with homosexuality.
It was not only Angel's sexual orientation that alienated students and staff last year, however. He was in your face about everything! The usual adolescent stuff, but he nevertheless could be hard to take: argumentative, provocative, and sometimes outright obnoxious.
He had many struggles at home, and so this in part explains his behavior. Needless to say, Angel spent more than his share of time in my office (I happen to be his counselor as well).
I was recently surprised to learn that my student mediators had given Angel a score of 3 out of 10; a low rating that virtually guarantees that he will not be selected for the next training.
In the past I haven't questioned students' ratings. I add my opinion when the group meets to finalize the selection of trainees, but I don't intervene. My voice is just one among 24.
A couple of things don't add up, however. Angel is a very articulate and sensitive young man who would make a fine mediator. As someone who has experienced harassment from this community, and as a gay person, he would also offer a perspective to the program and to the school that could be invaluable.
On the other hand, one of the two students that interviewed Angel, Sadie, is a leader among the mediators and a very mature and fair-minded young woman. I would not expect her to give anyone a low rating unless she sincerely felt he wasn't a good candidate.
One factor that throws a monkey wrench into this process is that I begin a maternity leave in 2 months, and will be gone for the better part of a year. The administration is interviewing potential replacements, but I don't know how the program will fare when I am gone.
I am left with many questions. Should I intervene on Angel's behalf, directly questioning my student mediators regarding whether Angel's sexuality affected their decision? Should I speak with Sadie first in private? Or should I speak with Angel first, and ask him if I can speak publicly about his sexuality? (Although he didn't hide that he was gay last year, he didn't broadcast it over the public address system either.)
If Angel were to be selected, I wonder how it will effect the program as a whole. We have worked hard to gain credibility in this conservative school community. Will mediators now be hassled by schoolmates? Is that the price of being a leader? How will disputants respond if Angel is their mediator? Will this lead to a decrease in our caseload? Should my responsibility to the program take priority over my responsibility to Angel?
And what of the fact that I won't be here in two months? Angel doesn't have an ally at home as it is, and there is no guarantee that my successor will be an open-minded person. What if the harassment gets worse as a result of his more public role as a peer mediator? The administration will do the minimum that is required of them, nothing more.
Given that I am leaving, should I not interfere? Or would it be unethical for me not to challenge the potential prejudice among my mediators and in the school community, even though this will soon be someone else's problem?
What, if anything, would you do if you were a peer mediation coordinator observing students mediate this case?
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