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mediation@mit Provides Informal Arbitration

By Eva Moy
Editor in Chief

Students have a new option for resolving their disputes -- mediation@mit -- which is both unofficial and confidential.

Mediation works on the "basic assumption that people are good and that people want to work out their own problems in good faith," said student mediator Albert L. Hsu '96.

The conflicting parties settle their own differences, with the help of a pair of mediators. The process is purely voluntary, and "any party can leave at any time for any reason," said mediator Mary P. Rowe, special assistant to the president.

Unlike formal grievance procedures, no records of the dispute are kept. The parties work out a mutual agreement, put it in writing, and enforce the solution themselves.

Mediation may be particularly useful for some cases of injury by means of speech, which can be resolved without formal mediation, Rowe said.

However, some disputes should not be mediated. "Cases of a criminal nature should be taken to a more formal level," said mediator Eckart W. Jansen G.

"By trying mediation, students do not lose any other options they may have. They may at any point opt to follow other routes, seek other forums, to process complaints," said Co-coordinator Carol Orme-Johnson. "Formal mediation through mediation@mit is designed to compliment, not replace, the informal mediation that goes on all the time on campus, through friends or graduate resident tutors or faculty intervening to help resolve disputes around them."

Orme-Johnson emphasized that mediation@mit arbitrates "only disputes between students."

"It's nice to have peers work with peers with conflicts," added Susan Allen.

A system still in progress

Mediation@mit has been in the works for the past two years. The organizers wanted to "keep alive the idea that ... you can resolve disputes at the lowest level" before bringing the case to Committee on Discipline or deans, said Mary E. Ni, mediator and Assistant Dean of Residence and Campus Activities.

The program developed as part of the harassment policies and procedures outlined in Dealing with Harassment at MIT. The Guide has evolved over the past 20 years; "it's a system still in progress," Rowe said.

According to Orme-Johnson, this program was modeled after the one at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, one of the oldest in the country. It features two person mediation teams to follow a particular model, with the two people representing different races, religions, and gender.

There are 27 trained mediators in the program, with 19 who completed their training over IAP, according to Orme-Johnson. Members include staff, undergraduate and graduate students.

"Mediation training teaches a variety of skills, the most important of which are listening skills," Jansen said. "We spent a lot of time listening to one another and learning about ourselves. ... Through acting each of the different roles in the mediation process (party, mediator, and observer) I gained valuable insight at every angle."

The IAP class "focused on problem solving instead of deciding who's right and wrong," Hsu said.

"I think this is one of the best things that's happened to MIT in a long time," Ni said. There is the potential to do good and allow people to learn from the process, she said.

Rowe added that mediation is a good way to stretch one's working comfort zones, "to be able to mediate a really tense situation ... with a peer ... is one of the best ways to educate oneself" about how to interact in society.

"Negotiation is a basic skill that you have to use all the time," Hsu said.