Field Guide

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Excerpted from Chapter 2: Mediating Conflicts Involving Harassment: An Overview in The School Mediator's Field Guide: Prejudice, Sexual Harassment, Large Groups and Other Daily Challenges by Richard Cohen


Checklist for Mediating Conflicts Involving Harassment


  • Provide (or make sure parties are provided with) three fundamentals:
    • Support
    • Information
    • Choice
  • Do not draw conclusions about a case until after speaking with both parties

Conducting intake interviews with victims:

  • Ask victims whether and in what manner they would like the harasser to be contacted
  • If victims would not like the harasser contacted, explore their hesitation and attempt to calm their fears
  • Remember: It is ultimately the victim's decision whether to mediate or not

Conducting intake interviews with harassers:

  • If the victim would like the harasser contacted, invite the harasser to speak in private, keeping even the invitation confidential
  • Ask open-ended questions at the start of the interview to encourage the harasser to speak; wait to explain the victim's concerns
  • Build rapport with the harasser
  • Explore the extent to which the harasser feels responsibility for his or her behavior (but leave the assigning of blame to the administration)
  • Clarify that the harasser is not exempt from disciplinary consequences if he or she participates in mediation

Informing administrators and parents:

  • Balance parties' rights to privacy with administrators' and parents' rights to be informed about certain kinds of behavior
  • Ask the victim and the harasser whether they would like the administration and parents to know about the conflict
  • Defer to parties' wishes whenever possible
  • If administrators need to be informed despite parties' wishes, invite parties to present the situation to the administration nevertheless
  • It is always the administration's responsibility to contact parents
  • Offer to help students communicate with their parents

Five Criteria For Deciding Whether Mediation Is Appropriate For Conflicts Involving Harassment:

  1. The degree of harassment (including its severity, persistence and pattern)
  2. The victim's desired outcomes
  3. The harasser's attitude toward trying to resolve and understand the conflict
  4. The victim's psychological strength, self-confidence, and ability to communicate needs verbally
  5. The school's policy and procedures

Coordinators can make a case more appropriate for mediation by:

  • Referring students to the administration prior to mediation
  • Encouraging victims to meet with a counselor or student support group
  • Allowing parties (especially victims) to have an advocate accompany them during the process
  • Having the victim mediate separately with the key individuals involved in a group conflict
  • If, on balance, it appears that parties would benefit from participation in mediation, it is usually worth the associated risks

Mediator Selection

  • Provide advanced training to mediators
  • Use mediators who share key characteristics with, or "mirror," the parties
  • Choose experienced student and adult mediators

During the Session

  • Focus the session on "righting a wrong" as well as resolving a conflict
  • Encourage parties to speak directly to one another when appropriate
  • Focus on facilitating dialogue more than formulating concrete agreements
  • Terminate the process whenever it appears to be reinforcing victims' traumas
  • Use private sessions when necessary

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