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School Mediator's Field Guide:
Sexual Harassment, Large Groups and Other Daily
Peer Mediation in Schools
Welcome to the March issue of The School Mediator.
This month's issue explores why schools are still
unsafe for both gay and straight students, and what
we must do about it.
Please send along your thoughts and experiences; hearing
from you is the best part of writing this newsletter.
Wishing you the best, wherever you are,
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates
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Near the Eye of the Storm
I live near ground zero in the debate over what has
come to be called "gay marriage."
Last week, people from across the US and representing
both "sides" of this issue squared off outside the
Massachusetts State House--4 miles from where I sit.
Inside the golden-domed building, legislators discussed
whether to amend our state constitution to prevent
gay people from marrying. (This following a decision
from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court which
asserted that people who are gay do have the
right to marry.)
The eyes of the nation, and to some extent the world,
have been upon us.
It seems especially timely, then, to address the issue
of homophobia in schools, and the heavy burden that
it places upon young people.
· Gay students attend your school. Estimates
vary, but it is likely that there are at least one
or two gay students (or students who will be gay)
in every high school classroom in America.
· Homophobia remains one of the most common forms
of prejudice among youth. In most American middle
and high schools, for instance, students use the word
"gay" to mean "stupid" hundreds of times every day.
Often adult bystanders don't even interrupt this behavior.
· Because sexual orientation is invisible, it presents
unique challenges. Many students don't think they
personally know anyone who is gay. In addition, straight
as well as gay students are the target of harassment
on the basis of presumed homosexual orientation.
· Hostility towards gays and lesbians does not
end in the school yard; it exists at home as well.
Half of all lesbian and gay youths interviewed in
one study reported that their parents rejected them
for being gay, and one quarter were actually forced
to leave home because of conflicts with their families.
The current situation in schools is both a disgrace
and a tragedy, the most glaring indication of which
is an attempted suicide rate among gay youth that is 7 times that of their heterosexual
It is likely that gay students and their allies will
find some hope and support in the current discussion
of gay marriage. It is equally likely, however, that
in the short term there will be no diminution and
perhaps even an increase in harassment based upon
As school-based conflict resolvers, we must be prepared.
To start, remember that it is adults' responsibility
to protect students from harassment. Young people,
peer mediators among them, cannot take the lead. Educators
(ideally under the leadership of administrators) must
create, promote, and enforce policies that ensure
that all students are safe and treated with respect.
Conflicts that involve harassment related to homophobia
can be mediated, but only if:
a. the parties are sincerely interested in talking
to one another and,
b. a number of other factors align, among them: the
extent and effectiveness of any disciplinary response;
the targeted student's desired outcome; and the ability
of the targeted student to express him or herself.
The only resource I know of that specifically addresses
how to handle these conflicts is my own book: "The School Mediator's Field Guide: Prejudice, Sexual Harassment, Large Groups
and Other Daily Challenges."
I am convinced that the day will come, and soon, when
people who are gay will be accorded the same rights
and privileges as heterosexual citizens and will be
treated with dignity and respect.
But there will be obstacles in the road, and conditions
continue to be very unsafe for students in most of
our schools. To protect our young people, gay and
straight, we must work to stop this and all forms
of harassment, and be prepared to intervene in conflicts
when they do occur.
The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN)
in collaboration with the United States Student Association
(USSA), has called for a Day of Silence on
April 21, 2004. This is a student- led action where
those who support making anti-LGBT bias unacceptable
in schools take a day-long vow of silence to recognize
and protest the discrimination and harassment--in
effect, the silencing--experienced by LGBT students
and their allies. Visit the link below for more information.
Wayne Jacobson, founder of Bridge Builders, has prepared
a helpful guide for educators on how to respond to
the Day of Silence. Visit this link to read his paper.
Day of Silence
Response to "Roses for Referrals"
received just a few responses, all local, to last month's issue of The School Mediator called
"Roses for Referrals." I have posted them below:
Just wanted to say thanks for the acknowledgement
in your latest newsletter. We have been having great
success with our new flowers. We probably had 7 mediations
take place last week alone.
We also continue to coordinate other events and programs
through the mediation program. We are going to sponsor
the national "no name calling" week here at school
at the beginning of March. Anytime we get our name
out there it helps with referrals.
Thanks again for the recognition.
Rupert A. Nock Middle School
Newburyport, MA USA
I just read your most recent newsletter about acknowledging
referrals and I found it quite interesting for a few
1. We do not have the problem of receiving referrals.
(We just completed mediation #77.) However, I'd guess
that 80% of our referrals come from our administrators;
10% students; and only 10% from teachers.
I acknowledge teachers who refer conflicts by sending
them a "Response to Mediation Referral" form which
A mediation was held on________.
It was facilitated by____________.
The results of the mediation seem:
A written agreement WAS/WAS NOT signed by all parties.
Thank you for your referral and support.
I decided to go this route since the people who filled
out the referrals were curious as to what went on,
etc. and the rules of confidentiality prevented us
from divulging information.
Yet, administrators are our main referrals and they
deserve to know a 'bit' about the results. This form
creates a helpful 'paper trail' as to the status of
our school's conflicts without revealing the 'stories'.
Hope the flower idea works, but I find the letter
more formal (as is the mediation effort at our school),
convenient and simple.
Spanish Teacher and Peer Mediation Coordinator
Woburn High School
Woburn, MA USA
I enjoy receiving your newsletters. The encouragement
is essential, since budget cuts to education find
themselves reflected in the elimination of such effective
programs as mediation.
At the conclusion of our mediation sessions, I send
the referral source a note indicating that the disputants
have reached an agreement (or whatever the conclusion
of the session may be) and thank them for the referral.
Sadly, referrals come exclusively from our Housemasters.
In an effort to get the message out to more of the
school community (especially teachers), our student
mediators have decided to plan an on campus presentation
about our mediation program later this month.
Newton North High School
Newton, MA USA
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