Conflict Resolution


For several years, the Peace Studies Program has been raising Grinnell’s awareness about conflict resolution. By bringing speakers, including Jayne Seminare Docherty, Howard Zehr, and Bill Warters, conducting conflict resolution classes and workshops, and taking Grinnellians to conflict resolution conferences, Peace Studies has provided us with an education in conflict resolution. In addition, many sections of Conflict & Conflict Management have produced tens of students committed to the principles of alternative responses to conflict. It is time we act on that education.

The need to act on our growing knowledge of conflict resolution is highlighted by the implications of self-governance. As outlined by Student Affairs, the college’s policy on self-governance includes “an administrative structure intentionally designed to challenge and support students to govern themselves” and “a campus community committed to social consciousness and community involvement.”

Current approaches to resolving conflict through the Judicial Council and College Hearing Board do not bear out these elements of self-governance. Mediation and Restorative Justice, which focus on individual agency and community involvement, merit a place in the College’s formal means of conflict resolution.

Beyond bringing the college in line with its stated value of self-governance, improved handling of conflict at all levels is key to a socially just campus environment in which students can pursue their educations effectively. Whether they themselves or their administrators live in the shadow of arbitrary or discipline-centered means of handling conflict, students suffer.

We want and deserve solutions that “engage those who are harmed, wrongdoers and their affected communities in search of solutions that promote repair, reconciliation and the rebuilding of relationships.

A History of Mishandled Conflict

Numerous incidents in Grinnell history indicate a need for formal mediation and restorative/transformative justice processes. Faculty angered by student violations, with no context in which to communicate the extent of the wrong to the wrongdoers, have had to do so through a system that has recourse only to formalized slaps on the wrist and various degrees of exiling.

In this sort of process, those who are harmed are never adequately heard. This is important in itself, as it is part of the healing process following any violation. Those who feel they are harmed can only influence the degree of punishment allotted. They cannot move the process toward identifying the extent of the wrong and making it right.

In other instances, a series of minor infractions and pursuant slaps on the wrist has eventually ended in a major infraction and exile/expulsion. Mediation and restorative justice allow for mutually acceptable–sometimes even mutually beneficial–solutions that can prevent major infractions far better than official warnings. They provide both opportunity and significant pressure to transform. This allows those in conflict to make changes in themselves and their relationships which prevent major infractions and keep the community whole.

The need for better processes of conflict resolution goes beyond student violations. Everyone has to be on board for a culture of conflict transformation. Dedication to positive conflict resolution in the student body will always be tenuous when that student body must coexist with an administration that does not share its dedication. To reiterate a theme seen in many of our demands, if the college truly has a commitment to social justice, it must be the change it wishes to see in the world. This means all of us.

Further, as indicated in the introduction, we all suffer, students included, when there exists a culture of suspicion anywhere on campus. As we have seen, mishandled conflicts produce explosive incidents that disrupt all our lives. We at Grinnell depend on each other. We need an administration not tangled in a web of inappropriately handled conflicts, and we need an administration free of fear.

Successful Programs at Other Institutions

Our Demand

We demand that mediation be made a mandatory first step in Judicial Council or College Board Hearing proceedings in which both parties feel safe, and that these bodies be empowered to recommend restorative justice processes in response to complaints by April 6th, 2009.

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