The School Mediator
Peer Mediation Insights From the Desk of Richard Cohen Vol. V, 3/06

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A Peer Mediation Coordinator's Dilemma II

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The School Mediator's Field Guide:
Prejudice, Sexual Harassment, Large Groups and Other Daily Challenges
by Richard Cohen
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Students Resolving Conflict:
Peer Mediation in Schools

by Richard Cohen
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Welcome to the March issue of The School Mediator.

This month's issue describes a difficult situation one peer mediation coordinator is currently facing.

As always, please send along your thoughts.

Wishing you the best, wherever you are,

Richard Cohen
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates

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  • A Peer Mediation Coordinator's Dilemma II

  • The following situation is based on one that was recently submitted to The School Mediator. Some details were changed to protect the identity of the school.

    Last week I was approached by our principal, Michael Weber, about a conflict that involves our girl's basketball team. He wanted to know whether we could mediate this dispute.

    I honestly didn't know what to tell him. I would like your feedback and the feedback of other coordinators. Here is the story:

    My school, located in an affluent suburban district, implemented a peer mediation program last year. I serve as the coordinator. We have been very successful to date, regularly using our enthusiastic team of students to mediate cases.

    Like most of the surrounding communities, we have a girl's basketball team at school. It is a very strong program, and it receives a great deal of support and attention from the local press, from parents, and from students (the boys even come out to support the girls team!).

    Out of 13 girls on the varsity team, 9 are seniors. We also have a junior varsity team, comprised almost completely of underclasswomen, with a handful of seniors who weren't talented enough to make the varsity team.

    Coach Jack Newsom has been the varsity basketball coach here since the girl's program began. He is a life-long town resident, and he has the support of school administrators and parents (some of whom were coached by Jack when they were students).

    At the start of the year, Coach Newsom decided to start junior Maria Goode at center instead of a popular senior named Rochelle Bostwhistle. Apparently, Newsom felt that Goode, who is extremely tall, was a better defensive player than Bostwhistle.

    Bostwhistle is a cocky kid, fairly well-liked, and a bit of a "drama queen." (She has also spent her fair share of time in the disciplinarians' office over the years.) Rochelle apparently did not hide her feelings about Coach Newsom's decision to start Goode instead of her.

    Maria Goode, on the other hand, is very different. She is shy and socially awkward. She has very few friends.

    The team was trounced at the first game of the season. Maria made a few dramatic mistakes and scored only 2 points.

    After this early failure, Maria started to be harassed, a situation which has not abated for almost two months. Some of the harassment has been covert, but I was shocked when I learned what Maria has endured over the past weeks. The list includes:

    · Basketball players have had social gatherings and invited every team member except for Maria.

    · Some of Maria's jewelry was stolen and never found.

    · There was a sexually suggestive picture of her found in the cafeteria.

    · Her winter jacket was ripped open so that the stuffing came out.

    · A student wrote negative things about Maria in her personal BLOG, with other students commenting as well. (Mr. Weber has already forced the student to take the BLOG off the internet.)

    Mr. Weber says that he and Mr. Newsom (he describes the coach as a "good guy whose heart has already retired") have been doing their best, but they have been unable to identify the culprits.

    Maria's parents have been in to speak to Mr. Weber a number of times. They obviously want the harassment to end. According to Mr. Weber, Goode herself "is taking the situation quite well, considering..." She continues to play on the team.

    At a pep rally a few days ago, however, a junior varsity basketball player (and one of the seniors who didn't make the varsity team) led a chant harassing Maria: "Goode sucks! Goode sucks!"

    For Mr. Weber, this was the last straw. Yesterday he met with team members--both individually and in a group--in yet another effort to get to the bottom of the situation. Unfortunately, the girls continued to be tight- lipped.

    Mr. Weber thinks he might have scared the team enough to make them stop the harassment. But he is not sure.

    He wondered whether we, the peer mediation program, might work with the team.

    I don't know what to do.

    The situation seems inappropriate for mediation on many levels (this is serious and ongoing harassment, after all). But...I wonder whether the team could benefit from a chance to talk this through in a non- punitive environment. Perhaps a meeting of all team members without Maria present? Or would that send the wrong message?

    We could do nothing, but to me that seems like abdicating our responsibility to help.

    Neither Mr. Weber nor Mr. Newsom seem to have the disposition (or the interpersonal skills) to handle this. My assumption is that at least a few (and likely many) of the basketball players must be uncomfortable with the situation, and would welcome an opportunity to talk.

    What advice would you give this coordinator? We will post the highlights of your responses in the next issue.

  • About Us
  • For twenty-one 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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