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Mendoza Appointed as New Mediation Director

By Yi Zhou

The fifth floor of the student center not only boasts a renovated reading room this fall, but also the office of the newly appointed Director for Student Mediation and Community Standards, Veronica Mendoza ’96. As director, Mendoza’s primary responsibility is to oversee student conflict management and discipline functions at MIT, including providing support for student judicial panels and the Institute’s own judicial process.

This opening was therefore “the perfect position for me,” Mendoza said. “This was a wonderful opportunity to get back into what I was interested in and still put to use my JD (a law degree) and the experience that I’d gained when I left.”

In addition to seeing the student judicial process take on a more prominent role, Mendoza would like mediation to be a bigger part of the Institute. While MIT currently offers a mediation training course over IAP, she would like to examine how it works at “other universities where it’s really established” and then “work with students … to make our own unique model.”

“I’m trying to hold back on making any kind of decisions at this point because it’s really important that I take the time to reacquaint myself with the Institute,” said Mendoza. “I feel that I have to be very careful to listen to what the concerns are now, to find out in what ways the Institute has changed and what the community standards are.” She is meeting with as many people as possible, including other administrators, students on the various JudComms, and members of the COD.

Her mix of first-hand knowledge of the school and experience in practicing law appealed to MIT’s search committee, led by Stephen D. Immerman, senior associate dean for student life. The search process is analogous to finding a “best fit line,” described Immerman, and “Veronica Mendoza was clearly the best fit.” While “there are lots of people that from a technical standpoint are qualified,” they were also seeking someone who is “careful, thoughtful, deliberate and focused on the individual,” Immerman said.

Originally titled “associate dean for student conduct and risk management” and left vacant after William M. Fischer stepped down last year, the role was redefined to “anchor it in the quality of life and experience we expect to have here” rather than in managing risk, said Barbara A. Baker, the associate dean for student life programs. The director must “work in concert with others and not have fixed ideas,” said Margery Resnick, the former chair of the Committee on Discipline and a member of the search committee. She added that MIT is trying to find ways in which everyone can work to reduce the number of situations in which students act outside of the ethical standards that are reflected in the Institute’s mission or break rules that are meant to ensure their safety. In addition, the director will report to Baker rather than directly to Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict.

Mendoza brings a unique perspective to the position, not only having received a bachelor’s degree in Spanish from MIT, but also having worked in the Admissions Office before pursuing a degree in law. “I was surprised to find that I really liked [working in the administration],” said Mendoza. Even as a practicing lawyer, years later, “I kept thinking back to how much I enjoyed working here,” she said. “The college environment really appealed to me — I love the energy and enthusiasm students have. I haven’t found that it exists in any other type of job; it really is unique to academia.”

Resnick was also Mendoza’s advisor when Mendoza was an undergrad at MIT, and describes her as a critical thinker who is open to working with students.