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UCS considers peer, administrative mediation initiatives

Social justice mediation program representative, ombudsperson present to general body

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Undergraduate Council of Students discussed a social justice mediation and facilitation program and heard from University ombudsperson Ruthy Kohorn Rosenberg at its general body meeting Wednesday night.

The social justice mediation and facilitation program aims to use a narrative mediation structure in order to help students resolve conflicts, said Assistant Director for Community Dialogue and Campus Engagement Marc Peters. The program is slated to have a soft launch in the spring.

The narrative mediation model “really centers story … gathering and trying to help someone have space to be heard,” he said. “But it also tries to make sure that no voice is privileged over another, that no story becomes the dominant narrative.”

The model also aims to tell the “below the line story,” Peters said, which can include “anything that’s unsaid, that has to do with identity, that has to do with privilege” or positionality.

“What I like about this particular model is it really tries to shore up what I would consider to be some of the flaws or shortcomings of traditional mediation,” Peters said.

Under the social justice mediation model, mediators hold individual sessions with conflicting parties and transmit information between them with their permission.

UCS Vice President Camila Pelsinger ’20 asked Peters to provide examples of hypothetical situations where this mediation process could be used.

Peters cited disagreements between roommates and conflicts over comments made in class that may have been “dismissive to someone’s identity or experience” as examples.

Twenty mediators were trained through the Social Justice Mediation Institute in January, Peters said. Around twenty more will be trained by the spring semester before the program’s soft launch, he said.

Applications for the program are open until Nov. 5, Peters added. “We’re really trying to make sure that this program is as student-centered, as student-driven as possible,” he said.

In the second half of the meeting, Rosenberg described her responsibilities as the University’s ombudsperson and answered questions from the general body.

An ombudsperson provides informal services to facilitate “problem solving and conflict resolution that are separate and distinct from formal grievance, adjudication, judiciary and legislative processes,” according to Oberlin College’s definition, which UCS President Shanzé Tahir ’19 read in part at last week’s meeting.

The Council unanimously passed a resolution at last week’s general body meeting demanding that the University hire an ombudsperson trained in transformative justice and community accountability processes to work with undergraduates.

Though Rosenberg said undergraduates sometimes find their way to her, the ombudsperson is officially a resource for “faculty, staff, postdoctoral fellows and associates, graduate students and medical students,” according to the office’s website.

“I help people navigate everything to do with their lives at Brown,” Rosenberg said. Rosenberg also works to identify the University’s structural problems based on the situations her office addresses.

Rosenberg, who works with between 180 and 200 individuals each year, said her office is different from other resources on campus because she does not keep records. This allows her to keep her work confidential, which she identified as the most important attribute of her position. Rosenberg noted, however, that she does not have legal confidentiality privileges like the Chaplains Office or Counseling and Psychological Services.

Should Brown offer an ombudsperson as a resource to undergraduates, it would be necessary to hire a second person, Rosenberg said. But Rosenberg said she would prefer that a second ombudsperson not be limited to working with undergraduates. Instead, she recommended that the two ombudspeople work together to serve the entire University community.

“My preference is to integrate it all. I think you learn more, (and) I think you’re able to see the systemic issues there,” she said.

Chair of Student Activities Alex Song ’20 asked Rosenberg whether she thought the University was “receptive … to hiring that next person.”

Rosenberg said she hasn’t talked to anyone about it, but advised the general body members to emphasize the unmet needs an ombudsperson would address when making their pitch to administrators.