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Conflict Management in Higher Ed Report
printfriendlyVolume 3, Number 3, May 2003

Strengthening Undergraduate Mediator Competency via the
National Intercollegiate
Mediation Tournament

From my point of view as an educator and mediator, one of the most significant developments for advancing the understanding of mediation for college and university students has been the evolution of the National Intercollegiate Mediation Tournament. Because I had initiated and coached mock trial teams at two colleges, I was familiar with the American Mock Trial Association and its development of mock trial for undergraduate students. However, as the director of a conflict resolution program, I was also aware there was no comparable intercollegiate activity for mediation. Many of my students wanted to practice their mediation skills, but other than role plays and internship experiences, we had no place to do so.

So when the first National Intercollegiate Mediation Tournament was held in Des Moines, Iowa in December of 2000, I encouraged a team of students to participate. We have since participated in each of the subsequent tournaments, and when performing program assessment at the university, I discovered how important those experiences had been for the students. When asked to write a one-minute essay on the "peak experience" during their years as a Conflict Resolution and Legal Studies major at Brenau University, all students who had participated in one of the mediation tournaments listed that exercise as their peak experience. At that point, I was convinced of the significance of the National Intercollegiate Mediation Tournament and other invitational mediation tournaments for future mediators.

To understand the development of the National Intercollegiate Mediation Tournament, it is first necessary to review the growth of college mock trial and the American Mock Trial Association *. In 1985, mock trial was established at the undergraduate college level at Drake University Law School. Motivation to begin the program was three-fold:

  • First, the founders, who were lawyers and members of the Iowa State Bar Association, wanted to introduce college students to the legal process and the American judicial system. It was their feeling that if college students understood how the legal system worked, they would be less critical of it and more willing to work within the system later in life. Students would also have a better appreciation of lawyers and the functions they serve in society.

  • Second, it was recognized that mock trial provided excellent training in critical thinking and the ability to present orally in a logical and meaningful way.

  • Third, the originators of the program recognized that our college athletes enjoyed a unique educational experience in competing in intercollegiate athletics, which was an important part of their college education. It was thought that mock trial could offer college students this same educational experience, and this has been realized. Mock trial students learn the meaning of competing in a team environment, the camaraderie and companionship of working together for a common goal, the joy of winning and the growth which comes from losing, and the fun of traveling, meeting and becoming friends with students from other schools.

Mock trial has become so successful that in the nineteenth year of the program some 236 colleges and universities from across the nation fielding over 460 teams (six to eight students per team), competed, attending 26 invitational tournaments, 17 regional tournaments, and 3 national tournaments. Many of the students were recognized with Intercollegiate All-American® honors, just as in college sports.

The success of mock trial led its founders to begin thinking how to expand the program so that more students with different interests and profiles might participate at the intercollegiate level. Thus, the national intercollegiate mediation tournament was established to expand the scope of intercollegiate education. Mediation appeals to the student who is more inclined to help others find peace rather than confront them (as in mock trial), to find resolution through understanding rather than cross-examination and impeachment, and to establish a process of healing.

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