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School Mediation Dilemma
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As I understand it, you gave the power to select new mediators to the veterans. They went through the process and made their selections. But you don't like the selections. So now you want to "intervene". Right?

And what message, exactly, does that send about respect for other people's decisions, their ability to solve their own problems and settle their own disputes?

Barry Goldman, Mediator and Arbitrator in private practice
Detroit, MI, USA
bagman@csi.com


My suggestion regarding the coordinator's ethical dilemma is to firstly approach Sadie informally, and chat with her as to the reasons for Angel's score. If the explanation makes sense, I would leave it at that. As we are told, Angel can be difficult and to this extent may not have presented well. If there is some sign of possible homophobia though on Sadie's part, I would need to talk further!

Dr Anthony Gray
Director of Schools Education
Queensland Law Society
Brisbane
Queensland, Australia
a.gray@qls.com.au


Your school is in desperate need of programs and education on the issue of sexual orientation. If you are in Massachusetts, the Department of Educations has excellent people and programs to help. There is a Safe Schools for Gay and Lesbian Students Grant available to help set up programs of support for your GLB population. Other schools now have grants to mentor schools that are currently in need of such programs.

Every time this young man is being harassed, his civil rights are being violated. Without question there are many gay and lesbian students in your school who are dealing with a hostile environment every day and desperately need help. My school was once where your school was, and with a lot of effort that can change. It was a struggle here, but there has been a massive change in attitude that has resulted in a much safer and more comfortable school environment. It is an ongoing effort on everyone's part to maintain that comfort level, but it can be done! It begins with zero tolerance for harassment - harassment of any kind, not just sexual orientation.

As for the question of whether this student should be a Peer Mediator, that is a bit more confusing. While it is great to have a diverse group of mediators, his sexual orientation should not be held against him or be a deciding factor in accepting him into the program. It is hard for me to understand how someone you described as "argumentative, provocative and sometimes outright obnoxious" could be a good candidate. He may have to resolve some personal issues before he is ready for your program.

I would think your discussion with the students who rate candidates should be the same for him as it is for any other candidate - what are his strengths and what are his weaknesses - his sexual orientation is neither a strength nor a weakness.

I strongly urge you to seek help to strengthen the acceptance level in your school environment, then when you choose a qualified candidate who happens to be gay it will not be an issue for your program. Good Luck!

Anonymous
MA, USA


My first reaction is that the appointment of new mediators is a job which you have already delegated. If you were to jump in now, the whole thing could fall apart, as those at the 'top' may feel that they are not completely trusted to make decision. You don't have to worry about when you leave because you have left a very strong team in place who have maturity and wisdom and who are in a position to pass this on.

If Angel's general attitude displays measurable degrees of rebellion - you speak about him having been loud and obnoxious - maybe he needs another year of maturing before being considered again. Otherwise, you may find yourself with someone who may 'side' with pupils who are being disciplined, reinforcing anarchistic attitudes and more of a problem may ensue. Sure, Angel may be a great guy at spotting unfairness, that's fine - but he needs to have the maturity to understand that where there is conflict, there are two points of view and that the needs of the establishment as a whole have to be taken into account as well as the needs of the individual student.

With regard to sexuality, the main problem here would be that it has been exposed. Most heterosexual people don't find it necessary to tell others about their sexual orientation. It just isn't an issue. Where people are overt about their sexuality, there is often almost an evangelistic zeal about it. What Angel decides to do in private is his choice, but it would not be good to recommend a lifestyle to others (remembering that we are talking about schoolchildren here) that has dangerous health risks. This type of decision should never be taken until people are able to make an informed choice. Not only this, but human sexuality is not fixed until around age 20, so it would be wrong for anyone to be pressured in any direction. If Angel is very outspoken, people may feel that there is a danger that he may use his position on the mediation service to 'evangelize' about his lifestyle.

Also, while we must never sit in judgment on people, it is well to pay due regard to research which undisputedly shows that health and happiness is most prevalent in long term heterosexual relationships and most of all within marriage and that this should be the model which is taught throughout school. Those who choose to live outside this pattern are free to do so and we remain their friends.

DD
Devon, United Kingdom
sophie@snooperoonies.fsnet.co.uk


I found the report of the dilemma over the student ratings of Angel as a potential dilemma fascinating. The coordinator had the following 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?"

I think you should talk with Angel first about pursuing the matter. Whether to speak publicly about his sexual orientation is one question, but I think it is important to talk with him about whether he wants you to pursue the matter at all with respect to him. If he does not want you to pursue it with respect to him, for whatever reason, I believe that should be respected.

On the other hand, you have identified a probable continuing flaw in the program itself. In the high school peer program that I was involved in starting, we set out to have representation among the mediators of all elements in the school, a kind of representative pool. I believe that is important at your school, too, and should include students who are different in various ways, including sexual orientation, in trouble kids, and disabilities.

Assuming that Angel either says it is all right to talk about his orientation or wants you to pursue his situation with the student mediators, including perhaps the factors he has talked with you about in the past such as family situation, then talk privately with those who evaluated him, sharing your own evaluation, and exploring why there was such a discrepancy among the evaluators. That might lead to discussing the matter of Angel's sexual orientation but might bring out other factors that you are unaware of.

Depending on what comes out of those discussions, there might need to be discussions then among the mediators as a group, and the shape of those discussions would, I believe, be revealed in the private ones. There are some online resources you might find it useful to consult: http://sunsite.unc.edu/gaylaw and also www.cwsl.edu/aalsqueer

I believe that it is important to initiate these discussions despite your pending leave of absence. If you don't, when you return you will not fully understand what happened and know to what extent your suspicions about the basis of the decisions are sound. Most important from the moral dimension, you will not have empowered Angel with respect to what may be a very important matter in his life. Your sensitivity to him is impressive and seems to me very important to him.

Grayfred B. Gray,
Associate Professor Emeritus
University of Tennessee College of Law
Knoxville, TN 37919-8726 USA
ggray@utk.edu


I think that paragraph six says a great deal about his ability to be an effective mediator. Any student who is "argumentative, provocative, and outright obnoxious" should rightly score low on his/her qualifications to become a mediator. Don't let the fact of this student's sexuality become a "red herring". If this student was not gay, would you have any doubts if he should be a mediator?

Anonymous
Leominster, MA, USA


As I read about the situation your described at your school, I have the following comments and thoughts:

1) What is the scoring of students based on?

2) Many of us working with students in peer mediation programs have experienced the transformation in attitudes, skills and behavior many have made as a result of the training. Once a student is trained it is important that all students model principals of respectful communication in order to remain in the program.

3) What are Angel's goals and expectation for wanting to be a mediator?

4) When the group meets to discuss potential candidates, it would seem valuable to have a discussion about the advantages and challenges of including Angel as a mediator. This models and practices critical thinking and consequential thinking skills assisting the group to better understand a decision made.

Jean A Sidwell, Principal
Decision Resources
Mediator, Trainer, Facilitator
Monterey, CA 93940 USA
Sidwellj@aol.com


I think that you might want to talk to Sadie about the decision and how it was made but if you trust Sadie, then you need to demonstrate that trust.

D. Fontaine
Boston, MA, USA


Prior to including him in the program I would have a conference with both Angel and Sadie to review the situation. Angel would have to assure me that he would have to conduct himself accordingly regarding his sexuality so it wouldn't be a distraction to our program. I would ask Sadie about his score, and find out her reasoning .After this conference I would meet with the entire program to review my decision.

I would be in favor of including Angel in the program for the following reasons.

1. He is qualified and possesses the necessary life skills to be in the program.

2. Mediators selection is based on a cross-section of the student body. He would offer an added perspective. Angel, would represent students with alternative life styles who previously wouldn't participate in the program and now will be included.

3. The program would prove that the school wasn't displaying prejudice against students with alternative life styles and would attract future students in this position to contribute to the program.

John Guanci
Guidance Counselor/Peer Mediation Coordinator
Comprehensive Grammar School
Methuen, MA, USA
jnguanci@methuen.k12.ma.us


Dear Fellow Mediation Coordinator,

While I am new to the mediation field, I have worked with families and children for 20 years. I have a similar situation, whereby a professed gay student wanted to be a new mediator in our program. I selected the candidates based on teacher referrals and interviews. Yes, I wanted the mediators to represent all factions of the student body, but what kept me from selecting him were qualities similar to the ones you mention about your student. "In your face, slightly obnoxious, argumentative, and provocative" are not qualities I seek in someone undertaking conflict resolution. I feel for your dilemma, but you cannot solve a school-wide diversity problem alone-and certainly with a mediator who might not show the leadership which we want these kids to show-a role model. Of course, being out on maternity leave adds another layer and naturally you would be worried about the stability of your program. Good luck with everything and let us know what you decided.

Mediation Coordinator
Quincy, MA, USA


The real question is whether Angel is competent to perform the duties that are required of him as a mediator. If he is deemed competent through the interviews, then he should be given the opportunity to serve as a member regardless of his sexual orientation.

I would first attempt to talk with Sadie and see if there was any other reason why she gave Angel a low score. If she says that he did not interview well, then I would just leave it at that.

If Angel did interview well and Sadie agrees, then I would take the issue to the group and explore why they gave Angel such low scores. Angel's disruptive behavior in class room could be because he is trying to figure out who he is in a conservative school setting where he does not feel accepted. This could be very frustrating for him.

If Angel does become part of the peer mediation program, then he may step up and act appropriately because he can now identify with the school and does not feel like an outsider.

Solomon Foulk
Prairie View A&M University
Houston, TX, USA

 

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