The holiday season can be a stressful time for many families. Especially this year with COVID 19 exasperating these stresses. Wouldn’t it be great if there was someone you could turn to when you were having a dispute with a family member or coworker? Someone who would act as an unbiased third party that would help you come to an agreement on your own? Someone who would do all of this free of charge to you? This sounds too good to be true, but let me tell you: it is real. There are mediation experts all over New York City that are free to all residents, one Conflict Dispute Resolution Center (CDRC) in each borough. If you were not aware of this free service that is available to all New Yorkers, don’t worry, you are not alone. That is why all of the CDRC’s came together on December 3rd 2020 for “Special Education, Family, or Community Problems?” Webinar hosted by IncludeNYC. For those of you that do not know, NYCID is the CDRC for Staten Island and is available to all Staten Islanders who need a little extra help this holiday season, and beyond.
The Webinar began with Kim McCoy of IncludeNYC explaining how the Webinar would work and what topics it would cover. McCoy spoke about how many different types of disputes the NYC mediation centers of all five boroughs can take on. McCoy described mediation as a voluntary way to solve disputes without getting the legal system involved. Mediations are conducted by a trained expert who facilitates the process, but does not make a decision. That is up to the parties who are in the dispute. After McCoy finished her opening the presentations began.
First up, and representing NYCID was Adria Gulizia, Assistant Director of Community Programs, who spoke about youth centered conflict, specifically peer mediation, restorative conferencing, and parent-teen mediation which are three viable options for youth mediation right here on Staten Island.
Gulizia described peer mediation as a conflict resolution process in which students serve as mediators to help their classmates solve their problems. It is important to note that even peer mediations are completely confidential, even though everyone goes to the same school. Peer mediation can be used either with traditional disciplinary measures or to completely replace these measures. NYCID trains students extensively to make sure they are ready to take on the task of peer mediation. Student mediators can often be more effective than adults because they have a better understanding of the problems other students are going through and they follow the core values of mediation, letting people come to their own decisions.
When asked if she thought peer mediation was a good alternative to other forms of punishment in schools Gulizia said she believes “that peer mediation is an excellent alternative to traditional disciplinary action. Particularly in situations where there are emotional issues involved – students who feel betrayed by their friends or like their culture or family has been demeaned – peer mediation allows the underlying issues driving the conflict to be brought to light and, hopefully, resolved. While traditional discipline treats each infraction as a stand-alone incident of rule-breaking, peer mediation allows all students involved to take responsibility for their part in a conflict and create their own path forward. People who get to agree on their own solutions are more likely to stick with them in the future. This is just as true for young people as for adults.”
Next, Gulizia spoke about parent-teen mediation. This type of mediation brings parents and their children together to address areas of conflict in an open environment. When parents and teens have an equal voice, this helps disrupt their normal ways of interacting which can be part of the problem. It creates a space where each person can openly discuss their challenges and frustrations. This type of mediation can be hard to get people to the table, but when it is done right parents and their children can come together with a new, powerful, understanding of each other.
The last type of mediation that Gulizia spoke about was restorative conferencing. Restorative conferencing brings together a young person who has caused some type of harm with someone who has been the victim of this harm. Both parties in restorative conferencing have support systems to help them get through the mediation process. This harm doesn’t necessarily mean a rule has been broken, rather something in the relationship has been disrupted. Restorative conferencing acknowledges that both parties in the dispute are still human.
When asked what that means Gulizia said “The justice system is by design dehumanizing. A crime is committed, not against an individual, but against the state, which decides the appropriate punishment, thereby erasing the victim. And fairness dictates a degree of standardization in punishments, often ignoring the unique journey and struggles of the perpetrator. Even the language we use – victim, perpetrator – strip the people involved of their individuality, obscuring the details and nuances of their identity as human beings and instead defining them by one characteristic- their relationship to a specific crime. Restorative conferencing helps restore their humanity by giving the victim a space to share about the impact of the crime on his or her life. It helps restore the humanity of the perpetrator by inviting an explanation of what led that individual to the point of harming someone else. By creating a space for friends, family and other supporters to share the impact the act of harm had on them, restorative conferencing situates both victim and perpetrator in a relational context that makes them more human, removing one-dimensional labels and replacing them with the rich story that each of us carries within.”
After speaking about restorative conferencing Guliza opened up the floor for questions and thanked McCoy for having her. After Gulizia was finished mediators from Queens, The Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan gave presentations on many other types of mediation that are available to New Yorkers. These events are so important because they can help out struggling New Yorkers who may not know about these free mediation services that are available to them for free.
Gulizia thinks events like these are important because “Community dispute resolution centers are one of New York’s best kept secrets. The fact that the state funds organizations full of highly-trained, dedicated conflict resolvers to provide high quality mediation at no cost or nominal cost is a tremendous resource that all New Yorkers deserve to know about and take full advantage of.”
NYCID does not want to be a secret anymore! We want people to take full advantage of our mediation services, especially if you need them this holiday season. To get in contact with our mediation team please email [email protected].