The School Mediator
Peer Mediation Insights From the Desk of Richard Cohen December, 2001

in this issue

Should Angel be a Mediator?

What Actually Happened

About Us

Welcome to the December issue of The School Mediator.

To subscribe to this free newsletter, send your email address to You can also easily forward a copy of TSM by using the forward button on your email program.

Thanks to those who submitted ideas about last month's dilemma. Your response has convinced us to post such dilemmas as a regular feature of the newsletter. Feel free to submit your own challenges for exploration, and don't worry about the quality of the writing; we'll help with that.

Happy holidays.

Wishing you the best, wherever you are,

Richard Cohen Founder and Director School Mediation Associates

This month's articles explore the ethical dilemma outlined in the November issue, including an update on what actually happened.

Should Angel be a Mediator?
A Summary of the Dilemma: Angel, one of very few "out" gay students at his high school, has applied to be a mediator. The team of veteran peer mediators who interviewed Angel gave him a poor score. The coordinator, who knows Angel well and feels he would make an excellent addition to the mediation team, is concerned that unacknowledged homophobia prevented the mediators from considering Angel. (Click here to read the complete dilemma.)

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 decisions.
Devon, United Kingdom

You have identified a probable continuing flaw in the program itself. I believe that is important [for you to] include students who are different in various ways, including sexual orientation, in-trouble kids, and kids with disabilities.
Grayfred B. Gray
Knoxville, TN USA

In last month's dilemma, a number of peer mediation coordinators' fundamental duties appear to demand contradictory actions. Three of the most pertinent duties are:

To ensure that peer mediators are as skilled and effective as possible.
Continuing to educate one's team of mediators is key to making peer mediation programs successful. Not only does this work further mediators' growth, it also increases the quality of the services provided to the school.

To empower students to make their own decisions whenever possible.
Just as student mediators facilitate a process that enables their peers to resolve their own conflicts, coordinators should apply this same principle of empowerment, striving to expand the range in which student mediators can safely make decisions and take responsibility for the program.

To assemble a mediation team that represents a diverse cross-section of the student body.
There are numerous reasons to select a diverse group to be trained, among them that it provides the program with greater resources to understand as well as to reach out to all groups within the school, and that it provides trainees with a richer training experience.

Because it contains important lessons about bias and prejudice, the current dilemma provides an opportunity to help mediators improve themselves and their services. It would, in fact, be irresponsible for this coordinator to not find a way to explore this potential deficiency in her mediators.

At the same time, the coordinator has to do this in a manner that respects students' decisions and demonstrates her faith in them. Given Angel's past behavior, it is certainly possible that the mediators gave him a low rating for legitimate reasons.

The challenge is to address this situation in a way that meets these apparently competing demands. Like the best change agents, peer mediation coordinators must search for courses of action that offer the most leverage and the least resistance.

In addition, because peer mediation programs are completely dependent upon the trust of the school community, program representatives must always act in a way that demonstrates a memorable degree of integrity and respect for those they serve.

Your school is in desperate need of programs and education on the issue of sexual orientation. 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.

Yet another responsibility that is relevant to this dilemma is the importance of working to improve school climate (in addition to resolving discrete interpersonal conflicts). If mediation coordinators become aware of systemic problems that increase the incidence or intensity of conflict within their schools, they must encourage their colleagues to address them.

After reviewing their case load and discovering such inequities, mediators and coordinators can (and have) initiated school-wide interventions such as diversity training, anti-bullying programs, management training for department heads, gay/straight alliances, etc.

Luckily, the coordinator who submitted this dilemma found a wonderful way to honor the duties outlined above. See below for the story.

Click here to read the unedited text of readers' responses to this dilemma.

What Actually Happened
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.
Dr. Anthony Gray
Queensland, Australia

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

The coordinator who submitted this dilemma (who must remain anonymous) sent us the following account of what actually transpired.

I thought long and hard and brought the dilemma to many people, who suggested several ideas.

It felt as though I really had to use this moment to move through something that would really educate the students. I knew that if I rejected Angel, he would know it. He would continue to be hurt, as he was when his father kicked him out of their home, and left him, at age 13, to fend for himself. This was based on nothing more than the fact he was gay. His father could not accept him.

I decided to speak privately with one of the team who had interviewed Angel, and a "leader" among the mediators, Sadie. I asked her why she had given him such a low rating. Did it have anything to do with the fact that Angel was gay?

Sadie thought hard and said she didn't really know why she had given him such a low rating, but in retrospect, Angel's interview had been outstanding. She stated unequivocally that she would not have a problem with a gay individual on the mediation team.

We were having a meeting that afternoon with the entire team to discuss which applicants we would choose. We talked about all the candidates, and the team did not respond negatively to Angel's name.

Toward the end of the meeting, Sadie asked if we were going to discuss the issue that she and I had talked about privately. I said yes, of course.

Before I had a chance to say anything, she asked, "Do you guys have any problem with having a gay student on the team?" The entire team said immediately that they had absolutely no problem with it, and that if he had a good interview, then he should be on the team. Another student said, "After all, we are the mediators, and need to teach the school about diversity and acceptance." Every single person agreed.

The training is now over, and it went fine. The new trainees were also accepting of Angel, and remain so today, six weeks later. Angel was extremely pleased with the results, and is very happy being part of a group who totally accepts him for who he is. His picture is up in the display case along with the rest of the mediators, and we are all happy that he is there.

I am very grateful that we did the right thing. It was indeed a teachable moment, and my students did not let me down. I was very proud of their attitude, and admire them even more than I did before!

A final note from Richard: It does seem odd that Sadie suddenly realized that Angel's interview had been wonderful. Perhaps this was a way for her to save face. It indicates that it might be beneficial to help these mediators learn more about issues related to sexual orientation.

About Us
For almost twenty years, School Mediation Associates has been devoted to the application and promotion of mediation in schools. SMA's mission is to transform schools into safer, more caring, and more effective institutions. Our books and training programs have been utilized by tens of thousands of people around the world.

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