As Rosie McSweeney sees it, conflict is something that’s always bound to happen, and that’s perfectly okay.
“Conflict is not a bad thing. It’s typically viewed that way, but it’s a natural part of life,” she says. “We’re all trying to achieve agendas, and there are times when those agendas are going to clash. How we deal with conflict can really impact if a relationship is salvaged. It can impact how a relationship moves on, how it ends.”
That’s why three years ago McSweeney, director of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution Services, started the In-Hall Mediator Program as a resource to reach outside her department to students living on campus.
“I think a lot of students are hesitant to come to this office to receive conflict resolution services. So the idea, really, was to bring it to them. It makes it a little more comfortable for students, and it gives our volunteers more experience,” she says. “If people are more inclined to make use of resources, that benefits everyone.”
McSweeney enlisted the help of three student volunteers – Kasturi Puntambekar, Megan Turner, and Tia Howard – to attend mediation and conflict coaching training before starting as the program’s first and current in-hall mediators.
Turner, a BA/MA student in International Peace and Conflict Studies, explains the mediator’s role is not one that makes decisions for students over a conflict; instead, the mediator simply asks questions to open a dialogue.
“Mediation isn’t telling people what to do or giving advice on what to do,” she says. “It’s more empowering them to help them realize what’s best for their situation and giving them the tools they need to have better relationships with people.”
Puntambekar – a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences – notes that the in-hall mediators provide an opportunity separate from the role of the resident assistant, which also supports students living on campus. Having someone to go to for a confidential conversation is something many students look for when they live on campus, especially if it’s their first time sharing a room.
“RA’s don’t specifically have mediation training. Typically when they see roommates in conflict, they won’t really know what to do,” she explains. “The fact that they have someone to refer them to is important.”
The in-hall mediators received 44 referrals last semester for mediation. In some cases, roommates asked to change living arrangements, in others they resolved their issues, and still in others roommates asked for conflict coaching – one-on-one sessions where in-hall mediators detail how to approach conflict. In these cases, students settled their concerns without further help from a mediator.
McSweeney is happy to see students taking it upon themselves to work out their differences, and Turner couldn’t be happier to watch breakthroughs in a mediation session. In fact, it’s one of her favorite parts of the job.
“I like seeing how much people change throughout [the mediation process],” she shares. “In conflict coaching, so often people act like it’s not okay that they are upset by what their roommate does or it’s not okay that these things happen. Having them realize that conflict is okay and a lot of growth comes out of conflict, that’s what I really find interesting.”
While the benefits for in-hall residents are numerous, McSweeney points out that it’s the mediators who may be learning and receiving the most from the program. They’re learning skills outside the classroom that they can take into future endeavors. It’s just another way AU educates the whole student for life after graduation.
When approaching conflict, McSweeney explains that “the in-hall mediators say, ‘I know this is going to be tough, but this it worth it. It’s important to do,’” she says. “College is about learning life skills, and conflict is not something that only happens in college. It’s a lifelong skill, how you manage conflict.”
If you're interested in the in-hall mediators' services or would like to volunteer as an in-hall mediator, click here.