Campus Mediation Program Provides Students Learning Opportunity
For the past two years, students at Cornell have participated in the Campus Mediation Program, an initiative between ILR’s Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution and the Office of the Judicial Administrator.
According to Katrina Nobles, director of Conflict Programs at the institute, the Cornell program differs from other peer mediation programs around the country because it is combined with a credit-bearing course.
“It's not simply a volunteer effort,” Nobles said. “The students actually get something in return. So, in terms of programs like that on campus, they are few and far between. It's also unique in the sense that there are other programs around the nation in law schools where they may have a course and then the students mediate at the community resolution center, or at the small claims court, whereas our program impacts our community. The students aren't doing some outside case that doesn't necessarily affect the Cornell community. They are actually mediating cases that are specific to code violations on campus.”
All student mediators take the four-credit course, "Campus Mediation Practicum," which is cross-listed in both the ILR and Cornell Law School. In the first segment of the course, students are introduced to the guiding principles of interpersonal mediation. In the second segment, students are assigned to mediate cases referred to the Scheinman Institute from the Office of Judicial Administrator. This allows students the opportunity to apply their knowledge of mediation and acquire the skills necessary to become effective mediators. An additional course was added in Spring 2019, “Campus Mediation Practicum 2,” in which students who have taken the first course have the opportunity to mentor new mediators, as well as pursue deeper research topics in restorative justice and campus mediation.
The courses are co-taught by Nobles and Rocco M. Scanza, director of Alternative Dispute Resolution Programs at the Scheinman Institute.
Sukanya Singh, Law ’19, said “This class is rare in that you get the opportunity to mediate actual conflicts and issues, and is the most unique learning experience with wonderful guidance every step of the way. This is an excellent program encouraging students to develop a skill while in the process of being useful to the community that they are part of. Unlike the usual efforts at mediation, which are all about getting the parties to settle at all costs, this program allows the parties involved to address their issues in the most creative ways.”
This past April, the Scheinman Institute held an event to present “Cornell Student Mediation Program Student Mediators’ Report: A 2-Year Assessment.” The report indicated that over the span of the program, 61 student mediators participated in 59 code violation mediations, combining facilitative, transformative and restorative justice practices and principles, as well as 31 facilitated dialogues, where parties discussed the incident that occurred and how that impact might be repaired and trust can be rebuilt.
“We’ve learned that it's very easy to go through cases and have cookie cutter possibilities for the parties to take on as sanctions,” Nobles said. “We could easily give everyone a fine. Anytime somebody got a first offense, they get fined $40. But, what does that really do for anyone? It is far more rewarding for both the mediator, and more so for the parties, when the mediator focuses on getting the parties to be creative. They have had some amazingly creative sanctions as ways to repair impact and rebuild trust. Things like poster projects, or different ways to apologize by doing vlogs, or writing poems reflecting on the action they took. It's been incredibly creative this second year and I think that really speaks to how our student mediators have dug into what's most important for the parties, and encourages students to take active responsibility or accountability”
Going forward, Nobles hopes to see the program utilized by more members of the Cornell community. She states that one of the future goals will be expanding the program’s partnership with offices such as the Dean of Students and Residential Programs.
"One of the big things that we found is that we need more promotion of the program for things like roommate conflict and general conflict of students on campus,” Nobles says. “The more people hear about it and learn about what mediation is, the more comfortable people will be with it, which is an important next step.”