Noah Chovanec, like most Cornell University students, assumed that the university’s Office of Judicial Administration was all about handing out violations and punishing student offenders.
The Scheinman Institute’s innovative Student Campus Mediation Program showed him that was far from the truth. Chovanec earned invaluable first-hand experience in the process through which students help mediate cases involving Cornell students who have committed minor policy violations. In tandem with a traditional classroom-based course, the program takes a clinical approach, connecting theoretical exploration and skill building in class with mediating cases outside of class.
It is the only campus mediation program in the country to combine mediations with a credit-based academic component.
“The program provides the unique opportunity to not only repair harm caused by the choices which are made by members of the Cornell community,” said Michelle R. Horvath, judicial administrator, “but also uses theoretical underpinnings to address the distinct needs of each participant in the process – the mediator, the respondent, and the impacted parties.”
The experience of Chovanec, who served as a student mediator, is typical of the 60-plus participants who have been in the program during its first two years. That number is growing, according to Katrina Nobles, director of Conflict Programs, at the Scheinman Institute who co-created the program with Rocco Scanza, former director of Alternative Dispute Resolution Programs.
“The program has been well received by all those involved: the student mediators, the Office of Judicial Administration and the student body,” said Nobles. “It is now a significant part of an effort by the Office of Judicial Administration to increase the use of mediation and ‘restorative justice,’ specifically for minor code violations. The Office of Judicial Administration wants to expand the nature and kinds of cases the student mediators handle, and has been impressed with their level of sophistication and their ability to create restorative solutions.”
Chovanec said, “I learned how much experience counts when acting as a mediator. Early on, I found it difficult to help steer the conversation between the two parties, but with every mediation I conducted, it became more natural and effective.”