The School Mediator
Peer Mediation Insights From the Desk of Richard Cohen Vol. IV, 11/04

in this issue

Peer Mediator Diversity

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
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Welcome to the November issue of The School Mediator.

This month's issue discusses the importance of having a diverse group of peer mediators.

As always, please send along your thoughts and experiences.

Wishing you the best, wherever you are,

Richard Cohen
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates

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  • Peer Mediator Diversity

  • I sometimes arrive at a school to conduct a peer mediation training and find that the coordinator has assembled a homogenous group of trainees: most of the students are high achieving, relatively well- adjusted, and represent the majority racial/ethnic group in the school. Many are even part of the same clique of friends.

    Great kids. As fine a group as any.

    But one thing they are not, is diverse.

    The coordinator undoubtedly thinks that she is getting the program off to a great start by selecting only the "stars" of the school.

    She couldn't be more wrong.

    A peer mediation program is doomed to fail if its mediators are not representative of the student body they serve.

    Why? Because diversity of mediators is a practical requisite for peer mediation program success. Diversity...

    1. Provides the program with flexibility and responsiveness when assigning mediators to a case. (The particular mediators with whom parties would be most comfortable can be assigned to each case.)

    2. Provides the program with a resource to understand as well as reach out to all groups within the school.

    3. Demonstrates to the trainees and to the school that all students can work, learn and have fun together.

    4. Demonstrates to the school community that mediation is not just for a particular "type" of student. (Every student can find a mediator who is "like me.")

    5. Prepares trainees for their work as mediators, when they will have to feel comfortable with and win the trust of all kinds of students.*

    Of all these important benefits of diversity, the last is most compelling.

    For though being an effective mediator is a matter of skill, it is also a matter of attitude, or "orientation," towards others.

    Mediators have a refined ability to empathize: to see situations from another person's perspective. In order to empathize, they must first give people the benefit of the doubt, and strive to manage the tendency-- present in all of us--to pre-judge others.

    I can think of no better way to develop this orientation then by providing potential mediators with an experience that calls their own prejudices into question. When trainees are diverse, this is exactly what happens during the peer mediation training.

    Students discover that peers, about whom they had made negative judgments, are actually wonderful, interesting, caring, fun people. Hopefully, they carry this discovery--this reluctance to judge others-- into the mediation room.

    It is important to note that even in schools in which 95% of students appear outwardly similar, there are still many ways in which students differ. In addition to the obvious categories of race, ethnicity, and religion, consider physical capability, socioeconomic status, academic ability, grade level, sex, sexual orientation (for older students), home neighborhood, cliques represented, interests, school behavior, and even personality type.

    The question remains, however: Why, after repeated reminders about the importance of diversity, do some coordinators still assemble homogenous groups of student trainees?

    Is it laziness? Overwork? Is it a lack of belief in all young people? Is it structural inequities in a system focused on such a narrow range of aptitudes that those who don't fit the mold get lost?

    What do you think? Please share your thoughts...

    * Excerpted from Students Resolving Conflict: Peer Mediation in Schools.

  • About Us
  • For 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.

    Call us: 617-926-0994
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    Watertown, MA 02472 USA

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