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Rationales - Why Conflict Resolution Matters to Students

Conflict is essentially a fact of student life. Students experience all the daily problems of living and working together that we all grapple with. They (especially undergraduates) also experience interactions with people who are different from themselves (different in race, culture, sexual preference, ethnicity, or religion) and from people they have known before. Fears rooted in stereotypes (their own and others) and fears of confronting those stereotypes may surface. Students also face personality conflicts and conflicts stemming from testing boundaries and learning the real meaning of independence and personal and group responsibility. Testing the limits of drinking, smoking, drugs, and sex is a way of learning -- but quite often through conflict -- what is acceptable behavior for themselves and for others.

Students must also face conflicts with landlords, merchants, and roommates that arise from errors in managing their finances. And in the academic realm, they find out whether their standards for work are acceptable -- both in content and in honesty.

In all these categories, students learn lessons about how to handle conflict from the institution and from their peers. Since few 18-year olds have developed good conflict resolution skills, using each other as models of how to manage and solve conflicts is often ineffective. Research on roommates in conflict suggests that typical first and second year students are often not developmentally prepared to effectively negotiate interpersonal conflicts with roommates on their own. As a result, the ways an college handles conflict must serve not only to maintain rules and order, but also to teach conflict resolution. Mediation is equipped to do this.

From a students' point of view the option of using mediation to resolve conflicts can be important for a number of different reasons depending on their circumstance.

Students often don't want to have to get other students (roommates, coworkers, classmates) into trouble with "the system" in order to address interpersonal problems.

Students appreciate having someone else (e.g. mediators) available to assist when they need to address a problem with a staff or faculty member who is older, more experienced, or more powerful.

Students appreciate services like mediation that can address off-campus as well as on-campus life, providing tangible support solving troubling problems involving summer sublets, landlords, and neighbors.

Being in conflict with someone who shares your major or social circles can be very uncomfortable and can go on for years. Mediation can help prevent escalation and prolongation of conflicts disrupting students' social and academic lives.

Many students are involved in intimate relationships that then break up. Mediation can help formerly romantic partners who must still live or work or go to class together to clarify and realign their relationships.

Mediation provides students with a new way, in addition to fighting with or avoiding the other, to approach each other and deal with disputes. This can mean a second chance for friendships that might otherwise have been lost due to the negative effects of conflict unresolved.

An increasing number of students enjoy and benefit from learning opportunities available as a volunteer or intern at a mediation center.
On many campuses students have been the most vocal supporters of mediation programs. Numerous peer mediation programs are being run as student organizations, relying primarily on student volunteers. As a case in point, Scott Pence, one of the founders of Student Dispute Resolution Program at the University of Michigan explained his situation as follows:

I had been trained as a mediator in high school, and learned what a valuable resource the process could be for people in conflict. I expected to serve as a mediator in college, however, when I arrived at the University of Michigan, I could not locate a firm to which I could offer my services. (Pence, 1996 p. 1)

As more and more students come out of high schools that have mediation programs, student support and interest in campus mediation is very likely to increase.