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Racial Conflict Simulation:
A High School Halloween Party

Principal Edwards' Scenario

Part One: Dealing with the Immediate Situation

Things to think about: (Note: Not all of the answers to the questions are given in the story. You will need to fill in details using your background knowledge of similar circumstances, help from the attached readings, and your imagination. Also, please be aware that we did not have enough money when we built this to write different stories depending on how you answer. So if you are the principal, for example, you may say that you want to mediate, but then read on to find out that the principal did not choose to mediate. Please don't think we are ignoring you or that the principal or the story is "stupid." We had to make people do some "stupid" things, or else there would not have been a conflict for you to puzzle over. Stick with it, and decide what you should do at each step along the way, even if some of the "turns" could have been avoided, had we "listened to you in the first place." You will get feedback on your answers when you turn this in to your instructor.)

  1. Who are the parties involved in the conflict so far? (List them in the box below.) (Click here for more information on parties.)

  2. What do you think their interests might be? (List them to the right of their names, below.) (Click here for information on "interests.")

    List parties here:List their interests here:
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  3. What are your interests?

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  4. Do you think there is something you might have done earlier to prevent the escalation of the situation? (Click here for advice.)

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  5. What do you think you should do now?

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Part Two: Rising Tension

Despite all your efforts, the tension at Agnew increases, and minor violence (such as fights) continues. So you decide to crack down. You bring in more resource officers and suspend more students. At first, this approach appears to be working. There are fewer fights, but the atmosphere in the school is tense.

A group of parents (many of whom have students on the dance team) accuse you of racism and demand that you be fired. The liberal weekly newspaper publishes a front-page exposé of the "race war" at Agnew, and some readers write in calling you a fascist. Publicly, you firmly maintain that there is no race problem, but privately, you worry that the bad press will drive students away. You organize a school assembly on racism, but only about a fourth of the students come.

To make matters worse, after two weeks of relative calm, the fights begin again off school grounds and the violence escalates quickly. The last straw comes when a student is caught with a gun at school. He is suspended, of course, but you are worried about the rapidly escalating situation. You call a faculty meeting to discuss the situation with the other administrators and the school faculty.

At that meeting, one of the assistant principals suggests a different approach. He thinks you should try mediation. A friend of his used a community relations mediator in her school and had good results. However, most of the other assistant principals and the faculty are wary. They don't want to lose control or let an outsider run the school.

Agnew, they argue, is not like the poorer schools in town. Agnew students are high achievers. There is still a possibility that this whole thing will blow over. The mediator would only be wasting time, because there really is not widespread racism at Agnew, only a few misguided students. The faculty meeting ends without any clear decision. The assistant principal who suggested mediation calls the mediator on his own, anyway, and sets up a meeting with her. You are annoyed that he acted on his own, but you decide to come to the meeting to see what this woman is like.

Things to think about:

  1. Do you think mediation is a good idea? Why or why not? (Click here for advice.)

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  2. What are the benefits?

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  3. What are the costs?

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  4. What alternatives do you have if you don't mediate? (Click here for advice.)

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  5. What are the advantages and disadvantages of your alternatives? (Click here for advice.)

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Part Three: Considering Options

When Ana Flores, the mediator, arrives, you are still wary. You tell Ana:

I realize how wrong it was for those students to dress up in blackface, but I can't allow students to cause disturbances. The pep rally could have gotten out of control, and someone could have gotten hurt. If they wanted to protest, they could have used another means, such as writing an article in the school newspaper or picketing. Plus, although I often agree with her, Sara, the dance team captain, has always been a troublemaker. She is outspoken and often hostile in class. I understand that the blackface photos were entirely unacceptable. I am not racist and neither is most of the student body. I'm not really sure how much you can do here.

Ana tells you that it doesn't matter whether or not you are racist; what matters is that some of the students and parents perceive that you are. She explains that you really have nothing to lose by going through the mediation process. It's free and if it doesn't work, you are free to try something else. Then, Ana asks you to think through your options carefully. A group of parents, she points out, wants you fired, and while they may not succeed, they could make your life very difficult. You will not "lose control," or relinquish any of your authority in mediation, she explains, because mediators do not make any decisions, they only guide the discussion. You agree to consider your options and get back to Ana soon.

  • Has anything Ana said changed your mind about mediation? If so, how? What do you want to do now? Why? (Click here for more information on mediation.)

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Part Four: Getting Organized

Note: We hope to draft stories for other options in the future; however, since this is primarily a mediation simulation, this is the scenario that we have drafted first.

You were surprisingly impressed with the mediator, so you decide to ask her to come meet with the school faculty and staff, along with a select group of parents. Ana gives a presentation to this group, which is well received. After she leaves, the group discusses her presentation and agrees to try mediation. You call Ana, and she agrees to come back to start the process later this week. In the meantime, though, she gives you some questions to think about:

  1. What are your goals for the mediation? (Click here for advice.)

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  2. What are your interests at this point? Have they changed from before? (Click here for advice.)

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  3. Who do you think should be involved in this mediation? (Click here for advice.)

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  4. Are there any people who should NOT be involved in the mediation? Why not? (Click here for advice.)

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Part Five: Preparing for Mediation

The group of students and parents who want you fired has started calling themselves Citizens Against Racism at Agnew (CARA). You hear that Ana has persuaded them to participate in the mediation. You are apprehensive about dealing with them, but you know that you must. Working things out with them, after all, is the primary purpose of this mediation process.

You also know that she has met with some of the prominent white students at Agnew, including Brian, the student body president, and Matt and Jeff, the boys responsible for the blackface pictures. You wonder whether they will agree to participate.

To prepare for the mediation, you call around to find out more about Ana and her organization. You hear very favorable things about her, which makes you feel more confident about the process.

Ana meets with you again and asks you what you think the issues are in this conflict. She also asks you what your interests are and what you think the teachers', white students', black students' and other students of color's interests are.

  1. What are the issues in this conflict? (Click here for advice.)

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  2. What are the white students' (and parents') interests? (Click here to read more about interests.)

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  3. What are the teachers' interests?

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  4. What are the black students' (and parents') interests?

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  5. What are the interests of the parents and the other students of color?

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  6. What do you think are the mediator's interests?

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You tell Ana you want to keep your job. You wish CARA would be able to see things from your perspective, and you would like them to agree to stop disrupting school functions. You would also like to change Agnew's reputation as a racist school.

The teachers, you say, support you and also want you to remain as principal. They feel that this situation has been blown entirely out of proportion and is preventing them from teaching effectively. They would like to see the situation resolved, so that the school and their teaching could get back to "normal."

Ana asks you if it is acceptable to share this information with the other people she meets with, and you agree. Although you don't think they'll care much about your interests, they might share your desire that Agnew not be perceived as (or actually be) a racist school. They might also want the atmosphere in the school to improve and "things to get back to normal."

Before Ana brings all of the parties together to begin discussions, she meets with you and the rest of the administration once more, to prepare you for the mediation and tell you what to expect. She asks you to choose two people from the administration and two from the faculty to participate in the discussions.

  1. Who would you choose? (Yourself? White administrators and/or faculty? Black administrators and/or faculty? Others?) (For information about who civil rights mediators think should be involved in their mediations, click here.)

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  2. What criteria would you use for choosing who is to participate? (Suggestions might be found here.)

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You tell her that you will participate, as will the assistant principal who suggested mediation, and two teachers — the teacher who supervises the dance team, and a PE teacher who is also the football coach.

Part Six: Mediation Begins

Ana brings all of the parties together the following week. She thanks everyone for coming, and again explains what mediation is and how it works. She then asks the participants to help her establish some ground rules for the discussion.

  • What ground rules would you suggest? (Click here for information on ground rules.)

You agree on things like not interrupting, speaking respectfully, and keeping the mediation proceeding confidential. Ana writes the ground rules down on a big flip-chart, and posts them on the wall.

She then asks the dance team students to explain the problem as they see it, focusing on their interests, not just their positions. Sara stands up to speak.

When I saw those pictures, I felt sick. It would have been one thing if it were just one incident, but we've put up with a lot. I've been called a "nigger" several times, but when I tell a teacher about it, nothing happens. A couple of guys on the football team think its funny to make racist jokes and pinch black girls' butts. When they do stuff like that in class, nobody stands up to them, including the teachers. They just tell them to settle down. Plus, the curriculum at this school is a joke. We spent months talking about the Holocaust, but they just glossed over slavery. I feel like nobody will listen to me or cares about my history or my concerns. Principal Edwards told me to write a letter to the school newspaper, but that was just a way to shut me up — nobody reads that thing. I'm not sorry for what I did, even if I did get suspended. It was the only way I could get people to pay attention to what I had to say.

Ana asks Sara what changes she would like to see made to address these problems. She answers that she and other CARA members would like complaints about racism to be taken more seriously, and the perpetrators to be harshly punished. She also wants Black and Latino history to take a much more prominent role in history classes. Finally, she says, a much higher number of minority students are being suspended than white students, and students of color are being punished more often and more harshly overall than are white students. "This discrimination must stop," she asserts.

Sara's last request makes you furious. You know Agnew's administration is extremely careful about who you punish and how. You also feel as if racial problems are being taken seriously. Her request for more consideration of minority history might be possible to meet, but the curriculum is awfully full already, and if material is added that isn't related to standardized tests, test scores are likely to go down; the repercussions for everyone at the school would be severe. "Nice idea, but the costs are too high," you think.

After Sara speaks, other CARA members augment her statement. They talk about a history of racism at Agnew, beginning when the school was integrated in the '60s and continuing to the present. After a while, the discussion begins to stray onto racism in the wider city — things like racial profiling and police brutality.

While you admit you weren't aware of any of this, you are becoming frustrated, because most of these incidents occurred either before you became principal two years ago or in the wider city, where you have no jurisdiction. As the comments go on and on, you begin to seethe. These people are living in the past. You could be home with your wife and daughter right now if these people would just stop talking. Plus, a lot of this stuff seems like hearsay to you. You wonder how much of it is true.

"Can we move on? These comments are irrelevant," you blurt out. You didn't really mean to say it out loud, or so bluntly, and you are sorry the moment it comes out of your mouth.

Sara's mother stands up.

"You see, this is exactly the problem," she says. "You won't listen to a word we say. Even now that we've finally gotten your attention, you're trying to shut us up. There is a problem in this school and in this city, and you need to face up to it."

"Look, I'm sorry I said that," you say. "Of course I want to deal with anything that's bothering you; that's my job. But the things you're bringing up happened before I became principal at Agnew, and the issue of racism in the police department is nothing I have control over. I want to make changes, but I do not want to endlessly rehash past events. There's nothing anyone can do to change those things. Plus, how can we know how much of what you're saying is true? These stories are not verifiable."

To you, your comment sounds calm and rational, but it sparks a furious exchange between the white people in the room and CARA. Sara stands up and yells at you for calling CARA liars. Soon, other people are standing and yelling. The students and parents of color say they need to be heard. The white students and parents say they just want to "get on with things."

Ana lets this go on for a bit, but then calls a recess. She asks everyone to try to calm down and to come back in 30 minutes.

Questions to consider:

  1. What is the role of emotion in conflict?

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  2. Should Ana (the mediator) allow this much anger to be expressed during the mediation? (Click here for information on dealing with anger in the mediation process, and click here for information on anger and anger management more generally.)

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  3. Would it have helped if you had suppressed your anger more than you did? (See the links above on anger.)

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  4. How might you be able to get CARA to understand your point of view — or better yet — to believe your statement?

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During the break, Ana pulls you aside and says that the parents and students from CARA are very angry and have been for a long time, and that they've never gotten a chance to express that anger. She assures you that after they get a chance to speak and they feel listened to, then you'll be able to move on to problem solving.

Question:

  • How do you feel about this response? Is it reasonable? Why or why not? What do you say to Ana? (For some biased advice, click here.)

You say that that makes sense to you, and that you'll be willing to listen if that's part of the total process. When everybody reconvenes, CARA says that they are done speaking.

Ana then asks Brian, who is representing the white students, to speak. He says:

We strongly disagree with the photos that were taken on Halloween. Those photos in no way represent how the majority of the students or parents at the school feel. Still, I feel we need to let that incident go. It was a one-time thing. The boys who did it have apologized, and now it is time to move forward. The tension at Agnew has gotten out of control. We've always had "cliques," but now the racial lines are much stronger and hostile. I think it's time to do something about this.

When Ana asks what he thinks should be done, he says that he doesn't know, but he thinks that maybe some more multi-racial activities might be good. He says that he is open to any other ideas that come up during the discussion, but that he doesn't have anything more to add at this point.

Next, it is your turn to speak. You give a quick speech, outlining the notes you wrote up the night before. You say:

I realize how wrong it was for those students to dress up in blackface, but my hands are tied. I can't punish students for incidents that occur off of school grounds. Ultimately, I agree with the sentiments that the dance team expressed, but I can't allow students to cause disturbances. The pep rally could have gotten out of control, and someone could have gotten hurt. If they wanted to protest, they could have used another means, such as writing an article in the school newspaper or picketing. Although I understand that the blackface photos were entirely unacceptable, it was only one incident caused by a couple of misguided kids.

I appreciate the concerns of the students and parents of color, but I do not believe that their assertions are correct. We take great care in handing out discipline fairly. While it is true that students of color are suspended more often than others, that is because they violate school rules more often than others. We do cover black and Latino history in our history classes as much as we have time for, given all of the other requirements, and we take racism very seriously in this school. That is why we are doing this mediation, as a matter of fact.

The CARA parents sigh loudly in disgust with that statement, but don't start yelling again. You realize they don't believe you, but you are telling the truth. What can you do, you wonder, to get them to understand your point of view?

Questions to consider:

  1. In the following week's meeting, you will need to begin to address CARA's concerns. How are you going to do that? (For suggestions, click here.) _________________________________________________________

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  2. Are there ways in which you could reframe your interests, in order to make them more palatable to CARA? (To learn more about reframing, see this essay and these comments by experienced civil rights mediators.) _________________________________________________________

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  3. How might CARA reframe their interests to make them more acceptable to you? (See these suggestions, as well as the links up above on reframing.) _________________________________________________________

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Once everyone is finished talking, Ana thanks them again for coming, and for hanging in when the going got difficult. "It is always hard to listen to things you don't agree with," Ana says, "but we need to do that in order to be able to work together. Over time, hopefully, we'll begin to see things in more similar ways. Since it is late, let's adjourn the meeting, and commence again next week. Okay?" Everyone agrees.

Part Seven: Fact-Finding

A week later, you all meet again in the same room. People still seem on edge, but Ana takes control quickly. She reviews the key concerns of each group, reframing some of them to make them more palatable and understandable to the other side. Each time she goes over one side's list, she asks if they agree with her restatement of their concerns and suggestions, and they discuss each one until everyone is in agreement.

The only one that cannot be agreed upon is the unequal discipline question. CARA is certain that discipline at Agnew is racially biased, while you are certain that it is not. The mediator suggests that an outside expert be brought in to study the situation and report to the group. This will cost money, of course, but you agree to pay it, as you know that statistics will support your side. There is considerable discussion about who to get to do the research. The mediator suggests a consultant who has worked with her on other cases, and everyone agrees that that person would be acceptable to them. Ana says she'll give her a call. "Usually, she can get started pretty soon," Ana offers.

Questions to consider: (For general information on fact-finding in racial conflicts, see experts' comments on factual disputes and neutral experts. The following essays might also provide assistance: Fact-Finding, Factual Disputes, Distinguishing Facts from Values, and Obtaining Trustworthy Information.)

  1. What does a fact-finding consultant need to do to make his or her findings credible to both sides? (See essays on communicating facts and uncertainty.)

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  2. Are there other approaches to fact-finding, besides hiring an outside consultant? What are they? (For advice, see the essay on fact-finding.)

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  3. Are there other facts in this case that ought to be investigated further by a consultant or other fact-finding method? If so, what are they?

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  4. How might you design a fact-finding effort on that/those topic(s)? (See links above for help.)

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Part Eight: Brainstorming Options

The outside consultant comes back with the results of her research. "Discipline does seem to be pretty evenly distributed between racial groups at the school," she reports. Nevertheless, the consultant suggests, more might be done to involve students and parents in the disciplinary process, thereby giving it more credibility, and decreasing suspicions.

Ana suggests that the group consider that option along with others, and explains that now that the problems have been identified and analyzed, the next step for the group is to consider multiple options for resolving the identified problems.

"There are two ways we can do this," Ana says. "We can all work together, taking each issue one at a time," Ana says. "Or, we could break into subgroups, and have each subgroup work intensely on one set of issues."

You discuss the pros and cons of each approach, and pretty quickly decide that the subgroup approach would be more efficient. Ana suggests that you divide into four working groups. These include:

  1. Discipline: How discipline can be carried out in both a fair way, and in a way that is viewed as fair by all the parties involved.

  2. Understanding: How inter-racial understanding can be improved at the school.

  3. Curriculum: How the curriculum can be modified so that students of color feel as if they are included in the curriculum.

  4. Response: How the school should respond to future racial incidents, if and when they occur.

Questions to answer:

What options can you identify for each one of these questions? (Think of as many options as possible, without yet making value judgments.) (For help, see Option Identification.)

  1. Discipline:

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  2. Understanding:

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  3. Curriculum:

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  4. Response:

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Part Nine: Assessing Options

After the working groups brainstorm lists of options, Ana asks each group to discuss the costs and benefits of each option and to come up with a preferred option, along with a second choice to present to the larger group. This proves to be a difficult task, as people assess the likely costs and benefits of the options very differently. For example, one option suggested by people in the curriculum subgroup is to greatly decrease the emphasis on White migration to and expansion through America in U.S. history and literature courses, and spend much more time focusing on Native American, Hispanic, and African American history, and the role of heroes and writers of color in shaping the United States and its literature. White parents oppose this suggestion, saying that it would cost a lot of money because it would require the purchase of new books and additional training for teachers. The white parents also fear that emphasis would come at the expense of teaching the material that would be tested on standardized tests, therefore jeopardizing their students' chances of getting into top colleges and/or getting advanced placement credit from standardized "AP" or "IB" tests. After several weeks however, and some consultations with district financial officers, all of the groups are able to come up with a list of preferred and secondary options to bring forward to the whole group.

Do your best to assess the costs and benefits of each of the options you listed above. (For assistance, see Costing.)

  1. Discipline:

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  2. Understanding:

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  3. Curriculum:

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  4. Response:

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Part Ten: Another Incident

It is now the week before the state football game. The mediation seems to be going well, but it has not come up with firm recommendations yet. Student emotions are still high, and you are nervous about a possible repeat of the earlier pep rally disturbance.

After school on Thursday, when most of the students have left for the day, a group of white students and a group of Latino students start yelling at each other in the halls. As the fight escalates, one of the Latino students flashes a knife. The school police officers have left for the day, but a security guard sees the exchange on the security cameras and rushes in. With the help of a janitor, he breaks up the fight quickly, but due to his inexperience, he uses too much force. He maces several of the students and the janitor manhandles several others. No one is seriously hurt, but many suffer minor injuries — some from the fight itself, and others from the security guard's and the janitor's actions.

When news of the fight gets out, parents and students on both sides are outraged. White parents say the school isn't doing enough to protect students from dangerous "gangs." They point out that this is the second weapon found in the school this year. On the other hand, the Latino parents say that white students are repeatedly ambushing and attacking their children. They complain that when fights break out, the authorities either treat both sides as if they had an equal part in starting the fight or they treat the Latinos like the aggressors. The Latino parents have been unaware of the mediation. Most of them speak only Spanish, and aren't well connected with the school or aware of school events.

When Ana reconvenes the mediation group the next day, everyone is angry. The white parents are angry, because they feel like their students are no longer safe at school. The minority parents are angry, because they feel like their students were never safe at school. The students are angry, because they feel that the school is getting more and more dangerous, yet they are required to attend. You feel stuck in the middle, which makes you angry. Whenever the group tries to start a discussion, it breaks down into yelling. Soon, several people are crying. Ana calls a break.

Questions to Consider:

  1. What can Ana do to regain control? (Click here for advice.)

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  2. Does mediation still make sense now?

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  3. Do you want to continue the mediation? Why or why not?

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  4. Has yesterday's incident changed your goals at all? Your interests?

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  5. What should you do about the angry parents who are not involved in the mediation? (For advice, click here.)

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  6. What should you do to regain control at the school?

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  7. Is there any way to do that while the mediation is happening?

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  8. Is there any way to do that without mediation?

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While everyone is on break, Ana meets with some of the group members individually, and tries to calm them down. When the group reconvenes, Ana reminds everyone of why you are all there, and of the ground rules you set in the first session. You begin the dialogue again, and it goes more smoothly, but there is still a lot of tension in the room. Everyone decides that they should invite some of the Spanish-speaking parents to the next meeting, and hire a translator so that those parents can participate in the meeting.

Part Eleven: Restoring Confidence

At the next meeting, four of the Spanish-speaking families show up. Ana asks them to tell their stories. One woman says that her sons were attacked by a group of white students the previous year and beaten with baseball bats. They managed to call for help on a cell phone before anyone was seriously hurt, but she says that they have had problems since they started at Agnew. She says that in that situation, which occurred outside of school, her sons were treated as the aggressors. Several other women from the group tell similar stories.

You ask the women a lot of questions about the incidents. Then you sit quietly for several moments. You are deeply disturbed. You had no idea that this was going on. You tell the women that you feel awful that their children were treated so badly. You apologize to them. When you finish speaking, the tension has dissipated a bit. It seems that you will be able to work together again.

That night, some parents and students from both sides gather for a spontaneous candlelight vigil on the lawn in front of the school. People make speeches about promoting harmony at Agnew and learning to listen to each other. Although only a small group attends the vigil, the event is widely publicized. On the front page of the newspaper the next morning, there are lovely pictures of the vigil instead of the usual stories of the latest crisis at Agnew.

Questions to Consider:

  1. Apology is a powerful tool for reconciling parties in conflict. What elements are needed for an apology to be effective? (For information on apologies, click here.)

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  2. Is there anything else that you, as principal, might be able to do to defuse this situation? (See advice from civil rights mediators about how they defuse things (though admittedly, they can do things that you, as a party, cannot do.) See also the more general information about de-escalation and trust building.)

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Part Twelve: The Walkout

Once the working groups come up with their first and second choice options, Ana has everyone reconvene and asks that each group present their options — along with their cost and benefit assessment — to the whole group.

Things seem to be going well, though you notice that Sara is looking increasingly irritated. Finally, she pounds her hand on the table and looks at Matt and Jeff, the two white students who took and posted the blackface pictures. Matt has been staring into space and Jeff's head has been bobbing as he fights off sleep.

"Why are you two here?" She asks them. "I never wanted you involved in the first place, because I thought that you would treat this whole process as a joke. You've treated this whole thing as if it's unimportant. I don't think you've heard a word that anybody has said. You've only come to less than a fourth of the meetings. I don't feel like I can talk to you. I don't understand why you agreed to participate in this. Why don't you just leave? Nobody cares if you're here."

The room is silent. Neither Matt nor Jeff knows how to respond. They stare at Sara blankly. Then they look at Ana for guidance. She cocks her head.

"I guess that's a fair question," Ana says. "Why did you two agree to participate in the mediation?"

"We want to do everything we can to make up for what we did," Matt says.

"That's not true," Sara says. "I've heard you say things at school. You think that I'm overreacting. You don't think what you did was that bad. But you are the ones who started this whole thing. If you can't understand what's going on here, then I don't have any hope of this conflict ever being resolved."

After another silence, Jeff begins to talk again.

"Fine, if you want to push the issue, which you always seem to want to do, I don't understand why we're here either. I hate sitting around talking about my feelings all day. It's like those corny games you play at summer camp. And you're wrong. I do understand why what I did was wrong. But you're also right. I do think you're overreacting. You're always playing the victim, Sara. I didn't beat anyone with a baseball bat. I just did something that I thought would be funny that you and your friends didn't think was so funny."

Sara flashes back, "That's your problem, Jeff. You can't seem to understand that anyone in the world has a different perspective from yours. You make those stupid jokes in class, and you have no idea what you're talking about, what the history is behind what you're saying."

"That's kind of true," Brian says softly. "You haven't really participated in this, Jeff."

"This is B.S.," Jeff says, standing up. "If you want me to leave, then I'll leave."

Matt looks confused, but after a few minutes, he follows Jeff, and they both walk out.

The two boys don't come back to mediation. Ana says that she has spoken to them and that they aren't interested. They don't feel that they have any reason to return. She asks if everyone wants to continue the mediation. Matt and Jeff were not the only representatives of the white students. There are still about four other white students and parents participating in the mediation. Everyone agrees to continue.

Questions to Consider: (For advice, click here.)

  1. Was there a better way for Sarah to have handled the situation, one that would have kept Matt and Jeff involved in the mediation?

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  2. Should she have tried to keep them involved?

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  3. Is there anything Ana could have done to get them to return? (For suggestions, see these comments.)

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  4. What goals does this mediation need to fulfill in order for you to feel that it's successful? (To see how mediators measure "success," click here.)

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Part Thirteen: Conclusion

After six months of hard work, the group manages to reach a consensus on the nature of the problem and desired changes. A new disciplinary committee is to be formed, made up of administrators, teachers, parents, and students, who will review disciplinary issues and trends on an ongoing basis. More cross-racial activities will be encouraged, and the English and history curricula will be examined in an effort to identify more material about or written by people of color. No firm decision is made about how much of this to include or what to cut, but the group agrees to continue to investigate options, and to make suggestions to the school and the school board before textbook orders are placed for next year.

One of the most exciting developments for you is that the school has won a grant from a private donor to establish an ombudsman office and a peer mediation program, which were identified as key components to successfully addressing any racial problems in the future. This grant was a direct result of the disciplinary working group. The group readily agreed that an ombudsman and a peer mediation program were good ideas, but costs were significant. Much to everyone's delight, several of the parents approached several successful business people in the community, and together they pledged to donate the funds needed to establish both of those programs. You hope that these programs will help students feel as if their complaints about racism have been taken seriously and will prevent any future incidents from escalating. Finally, as a group, you have put together a statement about Agnew's commitment to respect and diversity, which you hope will help guide future programs and decisions.

Each working group agrees to write part of a report that assesses the problems identified in the mediation, and describes the options that were considered and ultimately chosen for addressing those problems. The groups are given two weeks to do this, the reports are circulated, and changes are suggested. Ana compiles everything into a draft final report, which she distributes to the entire group. You review it carefully, and feel that it is fair and well-done. The group meets one last time, and after suggesting a few minor changes, everyone agrees to sign off on it. You schedule an all-school assembly for the beginning of the following week to present the report to the school body. You also send out a note to all parents and a letter to the city newspaper, explaining the process and giving an Internet address where the report will be posted online. Everyone goes out to dinner together after this final meeting, and the atmosphere is warm and celebratory.

For you, the most important result of the mediation process has been increasing the communication between you and some of the minority students and parents. While communication was almost non-existent before the mediation, you now feel comfortable talking with the members of CARA. You can easily run ideas by them or ask them for feedback. You hope they feel the same way.

Since reaching agreement, everything is still not perfect, but there are some major improvements. The number of fights has decreased substantially, and the minority population has risen after Agnew lost its reputation as a racist school. Two years after the mediation, you are voted principal of the year for your state. All in all, you are satisfied with the process and think that it has brought a marked improvement in the atmosphere at Agnew High.


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by Conflict Management Initiatives and the Conflict Information Consortium at the University of Colorado