Courtesy of Katrina Nobles

Students gather in a small group breakout mediation simulation in 2018.

September 23, 2021

Campus Mediation Program Teaches Students Creative Conflict Resolution

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Following years of revisions and summer implementation of the new Student Code of Conduct, conflict resolution will potentially give a greater voice to students in the Campus Mediation Program. Now explicitly outlined in the code, mediation could take greater prominence in resolving campus disputes.

“[The code] is intentionally trying to be more open, more fluid, more conversational and more restorative,” said Patrick Mehler ’23, chair of the Scheinman Conflict Resolution Club. 

The Campus Mediation Program comes as a collaboration between the Cornell University Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards and the Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution. It consists of two courses, ILRLR 4027: Campus Mediation Practicum and ILRLR 4029: Campus Mediation Practicum II: Advanced Issues in Restorative Justice, which train students in mediation methods.

Katrina Nobles, director of conflict programs at the Scheinman Institute, teaches both mediation courses. The classes’ focus is on the practices that help students repair harms and return to their community after violating the code. 

“We focus a lot on restorative practices, restorative justice within mediation and how that changes the tone of the mediation,” Nobles said.

One of the biggest changes under the new code involves the people who report violations. Previously, mediations occurred between reported students and a representative from the University. Now, the direct complainant will be present. 

If a resident adviser cites a student for underage drinking, for example, they may attend the mediation. If a general manager reports theft at The Cornell Store, they may attend. 

Natalie Baker ’22 began mediating last semester under the old code and said she anticipates a new dynamic this semester. 

“Thinking back, it didn’t really make sense to not have the other party present,” Baker said. “I think it limited how much progress we could make.”

Mediation can result in creative resolutions. Edgar O’Connell ’23 is currently taking Campus Mediation Practicum I, where he discusses potential cases and outcomes. He said students could repair harms with a complainant with personal skills –– like using graphic design expertise to create a poster for the complainant’s campus organization.

“Part of the process is to ask, ‘What are everybody’s strengths?’” O’Connell said. 

Mediation is voluntary and requires the consent of the complainant. But those who choose it often find resolution, according to Nobles.

“Based on my anecdotal knowledge of all of the cases we’ve had over the last four years,” Nobles said, “I would guess we probably have a 90 to 95 percent resolution rate.”

The code change could place more demand on the mediation program and Nobles’ students.  

“I think that there is a higher number of mediation referrals coming in over the beginning of the semester than we’ve had in the past,” Nobles said. 

That could mean a desire for increased funding or resources, Nobles said, but added that she thinks it’s too early to tell for sure, and the University has not encouraged mediation over other options. Nobles aims to document the effectiveness of mediation through ongoing research, which Mehler has assisted with.

While many mediation programs exist on college campuses, Cornell’s is one of the first and only programs attached to a for-credit course. Interested students can enroll from across the University. 

Mehler said he hopes the new codification of mediation will increase its relevance, giving students the chance to get to the root cause of conflict. 

“When somebody breaks a rule in the community,” Mehler said, “we’re not trying to ostracize them. We’re trying to rebuild the trust, and we’re trying to repair the harms that were done.”