Student to Student
As an in-hall mediator, Brianna Musselman helps roommates on campus work out their disputes. In doing so, she’s learned the importance of little things—like when she used to title emails to participants with “Request for Mediation.”
“Those weren’t going well,” she explained. “People were responding and saying, ‘No, I don’t want to do that. It sounds like student conduct.’”
Seeing how emotions already run high between parties in conflict, she tried a more positive approach with “Invitation to Mediation.” Suddenly, students wanted her help with their disputes.
“Even on that small level, when words make a difference, it makes me think of how in more important situations, wording is very important,” the ethics, peace, and global affairs master’s student said.
The program—organized through Student Conduct & Conflict Resolution Services—offers students guidance from their peers in resolving disputes, many of which crop up from the first-time experience of sharing space in a residence hall.
“A lot times students prefer to speak with other students. They find it more accessible,” explained Regina Curran, SCCRS assistant director. “There’s something about modeling. If another student is capable of doing this, they can do it too.”
JD/MBA student Derek Forrester not only splits his time between AU’s Washington College of Law and Kogod School of Business, he heads WCL’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Honor Society, which stages mock mediation and arbitration cases. Even so, he also serves as an in-hall mediator to gain more substantive experience.
“One of the reasons I wanted to be an in-hall mediator is because it did give me the real-world practice of actually sitting down with people who are having a conflict and working with them,” he said. “In that way, it’s furthering my ability to facilitate conversations that are difficult.”
The in-hall mediators see 80 to 100 students each year, with only 15 to 20 students requesting formal mediation sessions, which are completely voluntary two-hour meetings. Most students, though, simply need to vent or receive conflict coaching from the program to solve disputes on their own.
That constant person-to-person contact is exactly what Musselman was looking for in a volunteer activity. In fact, it shifted her professional interests away from State Department policy work.
“I realized I would feel a lot better if I could see the people I was impacting rather than writing policy reports and not knowing how the people on the ground are affected,” she said. “In mediating, you’re working directly with the person, and you can first-hand see the results of what’s happening.”
To become an in-hall mediator, students must attend mediation training, but the training itself is open to anyone looking for better strategies for approaching conflict and working with other people.
For Curran, the training aligns with AU’s goal of educating students beyond the classroom.
“It’s very real-life. We all engage in conflict,” she said. “As far as giving students skills they can use universally, no matter what they do, this fits perfectly into that.”
Musselman can’t agree more. Her work as an in-hall mediator has been effective experiential learning.
“It’s just helpful in life in general to have those skills. If someone wants to be an in-hall mediator, it’s totally worth it. There are a lot of learning experiences both about the mediation process and life. You can witness conflicts and learn from them when you’re not directly involved,” she said. “I learn something every time I meet with a student.”
And while she’s learned many things, large and small, she’s also gaining something she sees as invaluable: career direction. She eyes a career in community-based mediation after graduation, something she’s more than grateful to the program for.
“It’s fantastic,” she said. “This helped me figure out what I want to do with my life.”