The School Mediator
Peer Mediation Insights From the Desk of Richard Cohen November, 2001

in this issue

A Peer Mediation Coordinator's Dilemma

Tip of the Month

The War Continues

About Us

Peace Essay Contest

The National Peace Essay Contest is a scholarship competition sponsored by the United States Institute of Peace. It awards thousands of dollars (and a trip to Washington DC) to the winning high school students. The deadline for the 2001-2002 contest is January 23, 2002.

Information about the USIP National Peace Essay Contest

Welcome to the November issue of The School Mediator.

To add your name to the list of subscribers, send your email address to You can also easily forward a copy of TSM by using the forward button on your email program.

Happy Thanksgiving to all who will be celebrating on Thursday.

Wishing you the best, wherever you are,

Richard Cohen
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates

This month's feature article describes the ethical dilemma one peer mediation coordinator is facing, and invites your response.

 A Peer Mediation Coordinator's Dilemma
  The following situation was submitted to The School Mediator last month. Some details were changed to protect the identity of the school.

I am a school counselor and have coordinated a peer mediation program in my high school for four years. We have had a great run, and the administration sincerely feels that peer mediation is one of the best programs we have ever implemented.

After our initial year, I started using veteran student mediators to select the next team of trainees. Pairs of veterans conduct private interviews with each applicant, scoring them in a variety of categories on a scale of 1 to 10. This has worked wonderfully.

One of the applicants this year is a young man named Angel. Angel is one of very few "out" gay students in our building. (Of course, there are likely more gay students that I don't know about.)

Angel first came out about his sexual orientation last Spring. Many students and staff reacted inappropriately to his revelation, and Angel was confronted with subtle and some not so subtle harassment. Disciplinary action was taken against a few students, but the overall climate has not improved.

There is a paper-thin "let's accept diversity" veneer, but scratch the surface and people from the Principal on down are uncomfortable with anything to do with homosexuality.

It was not only Angel's sexual orientation that alienated students and staff last year, however. He was in your face about everything! The usual adolescent stuff, but he nevertheless could be hard to take: argumentative, provocative, and sometimes outright obnoxious.

He had many struggles at home, and so this in part explains his behavior. Needless to say, Angel spent more than his share of time in my office (I happen to be his counselor as well).

I was recently surprised to learn that my student mediators had given Angel a score of 3 out of 10; a low rating that virtually guarantees that he will not be selected for the next training.

In the past I haven't questioned students' ratings. I add my opinion when the group meets to finalize the selection of trainees, but I don't intervene. My voice is just one among 24.

A couple of things don't add up, however. Angel is a very articulate and sensitive young man who would make a fine mediator. As someone who has experienced harassment from this community, and as a gay person, he would also offer a perspective to the program and to the school that could be invaluable.

On the other hand, one of the two students that interviewed Angel, Sadie, is a leader among the mediators and a very mature and fair-minded young woman. I would not expect her to give anyone a low rating unless she sincerely felt he wasn't a good candidate.

One factor that throws a monkey wrench into this process is that I begin a maternity leave in 2 months, and will be gone for the better part of a year. The administration is interviewing potential replacements, but I don't know how the program will fare when I am gone.

I am left with many questions. Should I intervene on Angel's behalf, directly questioning my student mediators regarding whether Angel's sexuality affected their decision? Should I speak with Sadie first in private? Or should I speak with Angel first, and ask him if I can speak publicly about his sexuality? (Although he didn't hide that he was gay last year, he didn't broadcast it over the public address system either.)

If Angel were to be selected, I wonder how it will effect the program as a whole. We have worked hard to gain credibility in this conservative school community. Will mediators now be hassled by schoolmates? Is that the price of being a leader? How will disputants respond if Angel is their mediator? Will this lead to a decrease in our caseload? Should my responsibility to the program take priority over my responsibility to Angel?

And what of the fact that I won't be here in two months? Angel doesn't have an ally at home as it is, and there is no guarantee that my successor will be an open-minded person. What if the harassment gets worse as a result of his more public role as a peer mediator? The administration will do the minimum that is required of them, nothing more.

Given that I am leaving, should I not interfere? Or would it be unethical for me not to challenge the potential prejudice among my mediators and in the school community, even though this will soon be someone else's problem?

What course of action would you recommend to this coordinator? We will post your responses in the December issue.

Tip of the Month 
  Pester Your Disciplinarian!

Referral of conflicts from the school disciplinarian are essential for any peer mediation program's success. When a program is first implemented, disciplinary referrals typically account for 70% or more of the caseload. Even mature programs receive one third of their referrals from the disciplinarian.

Many factors prevent administrators in charge of discipline from making referrals, however. Some, like lack of belief in the program, or unwillingness to relinquish any control over this school function, are difficult to overcome.

Luckily, the most common reasons are more benign: forgetfulness and force of habit. When students in conflict arrive at their offices, disciplinarians simply do what they always have done, forgetting about the wonderful services offered by peer mediators.

One solution to this problem is what mediators at Concord Middle School (Concord, MA) facetiously call their "Pestering Program."

On every school day, a different mediator is assigned to visit the disciplinarians. They politely say hello and remind him or her that mediators are available and ready to assist in any way that they can.

This practice often leads to increased referrals. Some administrators come to look forward to these brief visits from students. Give it a try, and you'll see.

 The War Continues
  It has been two months since the tragic events of September 11th. We still have a series of conflict resolution principles and questions to help student mediators analyze any response to the attacks on our web site, as well as a number of papers exploring a different kind of approach to terrorism. Click here to view them.

 About Us
  For almost twenty years, School Mediation Associates has been devoted to the application and promotion of mediation in schools. SMA's mission is to transform schools into safer, more caring, and more effective institutions. Our books and training programs have been utilized by tens of thousands of people around the world.

Call us: 617-926-0994
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Watertown, MA 02472 USA

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