The School Mediator
Peer Mediation Insights From the Desk of Richard Cohen Vol. III, 3/04

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Near the Eye of the Storm

Response to "Roses for Referrals"

About Us

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The School Mediator's Field Guide:
Prejudice, Sexual Harassment, Large Groups and Other Daily Challenges
by Richard Cohen
more info

Students Resolving Conflict:
Peer Mediation in Schools

by Richard Cohen
more info

Welcome to the March issue of The School Mediator.

This month's issue explores why schools are still unsafe for both gay and straight students, and what we must do about it.

Please send along your thoughts and experiences; hearing from you is the best part of writing this newsletter.

Wishing you the best, wherever you are,

Richard Cohen
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates

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  • Near the Eye of the Storm

  • I live near ground zero in the debate over what has come to be called "gay marriage."

    Last week, people from across the US and representing both "sides" of this issue squared off outside the Massachusetts State House--4 miles from where I sit.

    Inside the golden-domed building, legislators discussed whether to amend our state constitution to prevent gay people from marrying. (This following a decision from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court which asserted that people who are gay do have the right to marry.)

    The eyes of the nation, and to some extent the world, have been upon us.

    It seems especially timely, then, to address the issue of homophobia in schools, and the heavy burden that it places upon young people.


    Gay students attend your school. Estimates vary, but it is likely that there are at least one or two gay students (or students who will be gay) in every high school classroom in America.

    Homophobia remains one of the most common forms of prejudice among youth. In most American middle and high schools, for instance, students use the word "gay" to mean "stupid" hundreds of times every day. Often adult bystanders don't even interrupt this behavior.

    Because sexual orientation is invisible, it presents unique challenges. Many students don't think they personally know anyone who is gay. In addition, straight as well as gay students are the target of harassment on the basis of presumed homosexual orientation.

    Hostility towards gays and lesbians does not end in the school yard; it exists at home as well. Half of all lesbian and gay youths interviewed in one study reported that their parents rejected them for being gay, and one quarter were actually forced to leave home because of conflicts with their families.

    The current situation in schools is both a disgrace and a tragedy, the most glaring indication of which is an attempted suicide rate among gay youth that is 7 times that of their heterosexual counterparts.

    It is likely that gay students and their allies will find some hope and support in the current discussion of gay marriage. It is equally likely, however, that in the short term there will be no diminution and perhaps even an increase in harassment based upon sexual orientation.

    As school-based conflict resolvers, we must be prepared.

    To start, remember that it is adults' responsibility to protect students from harassment. Young people, peer mediators among them, cannot take the lead. Educators (ideally under the leadership of administrators) must create, promote, and enforce policies that ensure that all students are safe and treated with respect.

    Conflicts that involve harassment related to homophobia can be mediated, but only if:

    a. the parties are sincerely interested in talking to one another and,

    b. a number of other factors align, among them: the extent and effectiveness of any disciplinary response; the targeted student's desired outcome; and the ability of the targeted student to express him or herself.

    The only resource I know of that specifically addresses how to handle these conflicts is my own book: "The School Mediator's Field Guide: Prejudice, Sexual Harassment, Large Groups and Other Daily Challenges."

    I am convinced that the day will come, and soon, when people who are gay will be accorded the same rights and privileges as heterosexual citizens and will be treated with dignity and respect.

    But there will be obstacles in the road, and conditions continue to be very unsafe for students in most of our schools. To protect our young people, gay and straight, we must work to stop this and all forms of harassment, and be prepared to intervene in conflicts when they do occur.

    Your thoughts...

    The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) in collaboration with the United States Student Association (USSA), has called for a Day of Silence on April 21, 2004. This is a student- led action where those who support making anti-LGBT bias unacceptable in schools take a day-long vow of silence to recognize and protest the discrimination and harassment--in effect, the silencing--experienced by LGBT students and their allies. Visit the link below for more information.

    Wayne Jacobson, founder of Bridge Builders, has prepared a helpful guide for educators on how to respond to the Day of Silence. Visit this link to read his paper.

    Day of Silence information

  • Response to "Roses for Referrals"
  • We received just a few responses, all local, to last month's issue of The School Mediator called "Roses for Referrals." I have posted them below:

    Just wanted to say thanks for the acknowledgement in your latest newsletter. We have been having great success with our new flowers. We probably had 7 mediations take place last week alone.

    We also continue to coordinate other events and programs through the mediation program. We are going to sponsor the national "no name calling" week here at school at the beginning of March. Anytime we get our name out there it helps with referrals.

    Thanks again for the recognition.

    Darwin Gillett
    School Counselor
    Rupert A. Nock Middle School
    Newburyport, MA USA

    I just read your most recent newsletter about acknowledging referrals and I found it quite interesting for a few reasons:

    1. We do not have the problem of receiving referrals. (We just completed mediation #77.) However, I'd guess that 80% of our referrals come from our administrators; 10% students; and only 10% from teachers.

    I acknowledge teachers who refer conflicts by sending them a "Response to Mediation Referral" form which simply states:

    A mediation was held on________.
    It was facilitated by____________.
    The results of the mediation seem:
    ___status quo
    A written agreement WAS/WAS NOT signed by all parties.
    Thank you for your referral and support.

    I decided to go this route since the people who filled out the referrals were curious as to what went on, etc. and the rules of confidentiality prevented us from divulging information.

    Yet, administrators are our main referrals and they deserve to know a 'bit' about the results. This form creates a helpful 'paper trail' as to the status of our school's conflicts without revealing the 'stories'.

    Hope the flower idea works, but I find the letter more formal (as is the mediation effort at our school), convenient and simple.

    Randy Orpen
    Spanish Teacher and Peer Mediation Coordinator
    Woburn High School
    Woburn, MA USA

    I enjoy receiving your newsletters. The encouragement is essential, since budget cuts to education find themselves reflected in the elimination of such effective programs as mediation.

    At the conclusion of our mediation sessions, I send the referral source a note indicating that the disputants have reached an agreement (or whatever the conclusion of the session may be) and thank them for the referral.

    Sadly, referrals come exclusively from our Housemasters. In an effort to get the message out to more of the school community (especially teachers), our student mediators have decided to plan an on campus presentation about our mediation program later this month.

    Jeanne White
    Newton North High School
    Newton, MA USA

  • 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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