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Racial Conflict Simulation:
A High School Halloween Party

Sara's 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 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. Once your suspension is over, what do you think you will do?

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Part Two: Rising Tension

The violence continues, and Principal Edwards cracks down. He brings in more resource officers and suspends more students. You think it's a terrible strategy. Going to school has become unbearable. There has always been a group of football players who make racist jokes in class; nobody has ever stood up to them, including the teachers. The ringleaders of this group are two guys named Matt and Jeff. They were the ones who dressed up in blackface for Halloween and then posted the photos on the Internet. They were not happy about your protest, especially because it was in the middle of the pep rally for their big game. Now, while they don't harass you directly, they provoke you by making stupid comments in class, and they have increased the racial jokes. You want to ignore them, but you have never been good at staying quiet when you're angry, and so classes tend to break down into shouting matches. The teachers see you as the trouble-maker, and you are threatened with suspension again.

After awhile, the resource officers are able to reduce the number of actual physical fights in school, but that hasn't reduced the general level of tension. Now, you can't walk five feet without a resource officer or a security guard questioning you, and it seems like all of your friends are being suspended. You are sure that a larger proportion of minority students are being punished than white students. "They always assume we're the trouble-makers," you muse, even though it is usually the white kids who start the disturbances.

Plus, the fights haven't stopped; they've just moved off of school grounds and become more violent. You've heard terrible stories, though you are not sure they are all true. The worst one was that two Latino brothers were walking home from school, when they were attacked by a big group of white kids with baseball bats. They were able to call for help on a cell phone before anyone was badly hurt, but they were really shaken up and haven't been attending school since. The story has been told and retold so many times, that you're not sure who was actually involved or if it even happened, but you wouldn't be surprised. Often when you are at school you feel fury boiling in the pit of your stomach. You don't know how to handle it. The only people you can talk to are your friends or your parents. There aren't any teachers or administrators whom you trust, not even the few teachers of color.

One day, you come home and begin complaining about school again. Instead of listening sympathetically as usual, your mother seems angry. She says that she's been talking to other parents, and that their kids have been saying the same things. She wants to form some kind of group, to take action instead of just complaining. You're not so sure. You've tried talking to Principal Edwards before and he hasn't been receptive.

"Well, if he won't listen, we'll make him listen," your mother says. "We'll get him fired."

The group of about 50 students and parents begins to meet on Monday nights. Everyone is fed up with the situation at Agnew. You begin to sketch out strategies. The local liberal weekly picks up the story and begins to publish stories about Agnew's racial conflict. One of the reporters comes to a few of your meetings and then publishes an article about your group.

Principal Edwards' response to the story is to hold an all-school assembly on racism. You refuse to attend. That's such a typical response from him, to just take superficial action instead of making meaningful changes. Still, you're feeling hopeful. You've begun to be noticed. You feel like maybe you really do have the power to get rid of Principal Edwards, after which you can make some meaningful changes at Agnew.

Questions to think about:

  1. Is firing Principal Edwards a good way to resolve this conflict? Why or why not? (Click here for advice.)

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  2. Do you have any other ideas? Which one would you choose and why?

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Part Three: Considering Options

Then you hear a rumor that Principal Edwards has agreed to work with a mediator, and you are worried. You've never heard of mediation, you don't know how it works, and you're afraid that a mediator will force you to make compromises you don't want to make. You are sure that if he has agreed to work with this mediator, then she must be on the administration's side, so you ignore the rumor and continue to organize.

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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    Fill out the following chart:

    OptionBenefitsCostsBalance?
    1. ________________________________________________y or n
    2. ________________________________________________y or n
    3. ________________________________________________y or n
    4. ________________________________________________y or n
    5. ________________________________________________y or n
    6. ________________________________________________y or n


Part Four: Getting Organized

Now that you're getting more publicity, you and the rest of the group decide that you need to make yourselves more official. You pick a name, Citizens Against Racism at Agnew (CARA). The group continues meeting every Monday, and you're preparing a case to present in front of the school board.

Then, one night, you get a call from Ana Flores. She is a friend of some of your parents' friends, and it turns out that she is going to be the mediator at Agnew. She talks to your parents for a long time, and they invite her to CARA's next meeting.

When Ana speaks at the meeting, you like her immediately. She is funny and confident. She explains the mediation process, saying that all of the participating parties will identify the issues involved in this conflict, create an agenda for addressing them, and hopefully come to an agreement. Along the way, she hopes that all of the participating parties will learn to communicate more effectively with each other and to better understand the conflict, as well as identify areas of common ground. She promises that CARA will have complete control over the process — that you won't be forced into any agreements. She also says that she has been successful with similar conflicts in the past.

One woman stands up and says, "We appreciate you meeting with us Ms. Flores, but I think we're doing fine without you. We've already tried to communicate with Principal Edwards and he's really not receptive. We're working on a plan to get him fired. We really think that that's the only way that we can get positive changes at Agnew."

Ana nods thoughtfully.

"You may be right about that," she says. "But what happens if you succeed in getting rid of Principal Edwards and someone else replaces him, and you find that you have the same problems? It may be more effective to try to address your issues now. I've already spoken with Principal Edwards, and he is willing to give this mediation a try. If it doesn't work for you, then you can always pull out and go ahead with your original plan. This won't cost you anything."

You stand up and say, "I'm interested in trying this out. It seems promising to me." Your mother asks the group if they're in agreement, and everyone says yes. Ana says that she'll be back in touch.

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?

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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?

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A couple of days later, Ana calls your parents to tell them that she has spoken with some of the white students at Agnew, including Brian, the student body president, and Matt and Jeff, the boys responsible for the blackface pictures. When you hear the news, you feel betrayed. You've hated Matt and Jeff since elementary school. They have an uncanny way of never getting on teachers' bad sides, but also undermining everything they're a part of. You're afraid that they're going to do the same with the mediation. You call Ana and tell her angrily that if they participate, you're pulling out. You will not deal with those two. Ana apologizes to you. She says that if she had known how you felt about them, she would have talked to you about it before. However, she says that they have agreed to participate, and that the mediation will only be effective if all of the parties involved in the conflict are represented. She says that if Matt and Jeff aren't involved, the mediation may not mean anything, since they instigated this whole conflict.

After talking for a while, you agree to go forward, but you still don't think that Matt and Jeff are going to contribute anything but trouble. "Ana's going to have to be a miracle worker if she gets those two to come around," you think to yourself.

Part Five: Preparing for Mediation

To prepare for the mediation, you talk to some of your friends about what kinds of changes they would like to see in the school. They tell you that the administration and the teachers don't care about them. Some kids say that they think the white kids are pretty ignorant about race issues. They are also concerned about the number of kids getting suspended. It seems to them, as to you, like the number of minorities being suspended is disproportionate to the number of white students that get such treatment.

When Ana meets with CARA again, she asks the whole group what they think the issues in the conflict are. Both students and parents stand up and talk. Most of the people at the meeting are minorities. They weren't friends before the conflict started, but have banded together to try to make themselves heard. They say that Agnew has a history of racist incidents. Many of them didn't occur while Principal Edwards was in charge, but Edwards hasn't done much to change things. In fact, he and the rest of the administration have been completely unreceptive to any complaints. They tend to treat complaints as if the students are just trying to get attention. The administration is willing to make superficial changes like that assembly and a corny "diversity day," but they are unwilling to make any deep changes. Ana listens for more than an hour as people voice their frustrations. She records what they say on a big flip-chart, and posts the list on the wall.

After all the complaints are listed, Ana asks you to decide how you want the problems fixed. Although some people still want Edwards fired, others agree with Ana's suggestion that the problem is likely not Edwards himself, but "the system." It won't do any good to fire Edwards, if the next person is the same or worse; it would be better to focus on systemic changes that could be implemented to make the school a safer and more inviting place for all students, regardless of who the principal is.

She encourages you to reconsider your goals, "reframing" them to make them better correspond with your true underlying interests. (To learn more about reframing, see this reframing essay and these comments by experienced civil rights mediators.)

After a lot of discussion, the group agrees to make four concrete requests:

  1. You want the administration to be more responsive to complaints of racism.
  2. You want the administration to investigate violent incidents more thoroughly and make changes, in addition to discipline, to assure that all students feel safe at school and (to the extent possible) in the community.
  3. You want to include more information about race relations in the United States in the history and literature curricula at Agnew.
  4. You want to investigate the number of kids being suspended to find out if punishments are being handed out equitably, and if they are not, make sure the disciplinary system is changed so that it is fair from now on.

Ana writes down your requests and asks whether she can share them with the other groups. "Why not?" you say. "They're going to hear them soon enough." Ana then tells you that Principal Edwards would like CARA to be able to understand his perspective, and he wants the dance team and other students of color to agree to stop disrupting school. He would also like to change Agnew's reputation as a racist school. "That will work," you say, "when it stops being a racist school. And how about asking the white kids to stop disrupting things by harassing us?!" "Well, that actually suggests some areas of common ground," says Ana. "You both want disruptions to stop and you want racist actions and attitudes to stop. The white students and parents want to reduce the tension and fights at school also, which overlaps with your interests as well. This is a good basis to start with," Ana offers.

Questions to consider:

  1. What are the underlying issues in this conflict at this time? Have they changed from before? (Click here for information on identifying issues.)

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  2. Do you think the other groups' goals for the mediation are reasonable? Why or why not? (Click here for information on analyzing goals.)

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  3. Do you see any areas of common ground beyond those already suggested? (Click here for ideas on commonalities.)

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  4. Ana told you that mediation makes everyone at the table "equal," but it seems to you that the school administration still has much more power than you do. Is there anything you can do to even the playing field? What? Click here for suggestions from mediators about leveling the playing field, and/or read this essay on "empowerment."

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  5. Ana has asked you to prepare an opening statement in which you describe your view of the problem and what you would like to see done to correct it. Draft that opening statement below:

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  6. What can you do to make the mediation successful? What do you expect Ana to do? (For a wonderful list of ways people "do themselves in" in mediation, and how to avoid such mistakes, click here.)

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Part Six: Mediation Begins

Ana brings all of the parties together the following week, after school. 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.

Question to Consider:

  • What ground rules would you suggest? (Click here for advice. Also see the Ground Rules essay on BeyondIntractability.org.)

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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.

Next, each group is supposed to state their perspective of the conflict. Ana asks you to speak first.

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 you what changes you would like to see made in order to address these problems. You answer that you and other CARA members would like for complaints about racism to be taken more seriously, and for the perpetrators to be harshly punished. You also want black and Latino history to take a much more prominent role in history classes. Finally, you say, 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, you assert.

When you are finished, other members of CARA speak as well. You had decided to do it this way at the last meeting. You had been afraid that if only one person had the chance to speak, that some members of CARA wouldn't have their concerns addressed, so you decided to let anyone who wanted to speak do so. People talk about a history of racism at Agnew, beginning when the school was integrated in the '60s and continuing to the present. After awhile, the discussion begins to stray onto racism in the wider city — things like racial profiling and police brutality. You feel proud of your group. They're making their points eloquently, and you feel pretty sure that most of the people in the room weren't aware of these incidents before now.

Then, you catch a glimpse of Principal Edwards. He looks noticeably irritated and is tapping his fingers on the table, as if he is impatient or completely disinterested. You feared this would happen. He never listened to your perspective before; why should he now? You elbow your mother and point out Principal Edwards' expression. She shakes her head and tries to figure out something to say. Before she says anything though, Principal Edwards speaks.

"Can we move on? These comments are irrelevant," he blurts out.

Your mother stands up, furious.

"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," he answers. "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? There is no way to verify these stories."

You're so angry that you stand up and begin yelling. How dare he accuse CARA of lying? Soon, more 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."

Finally, Ana 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 strong emotions be expressed? Why or why not?

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  3. What do you want a mediator to do to control emotions in the room? (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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  4. Would it have helped if the principal had suppressed his anger more than he did?

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  5. Could you have done anything to improve the situation, or was that not your role?

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During the break, Ana pulls your family aside and asks you to tell the rest of CARA that she has spoken with Principal Edwards, and that he is willing to hear you out. She explains that Principal Edwards is so used to trying to solve problems quickly, that he was frustrated with just listening. However, he understands now that listening is important and is part of the process. You doubt that he really understands that, but after talking things over with the other CARA participants, you decide that you should continue to try. "We don't want to be blamed for this process falling apart. If it is going to fall apart, let it be because the administration didn't want to work with us," you all agree.

When everybody reconvenes, you say that CARA is done speaking. Ana then asks Brian, who is representing the white students and parents at Agnew, 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 that we need to let that incident go. It was a one-time thing. The boys who did it have apologized, and I think that now is the time to move forward, instead of dwelling on the past. The tension at Agnew has gotten out of control. 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 Principal Edwards' turn. He says:

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.

"What a bogus answer," you think. "Didn't he hear anything we said?" You are discouraged, but still don't want to be blamed for blocking the process. So you wait to see what Ana is going to do next.

Questions to consider:

  1. How might you be able to get Principal Edwards to better understand your concerns?

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  2. Are you going to do anything about the situation before the next meeting? If so, what?

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  3. Are you going to do anything differently during the next meeting? If so, what?

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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 issue that cannot be agreed upon is the one dealing with unequal discipline. The administration insists that discipline is handled fairly, while CARA is certain it is not. Ana suggests hiring an outside, neutral expert to investigate the question. There is considerable discussion about who to get to do the research. Ana suggests a consultant who has worked with her on other cases, and everyone agrees to inquire as to whether that person would be willing to help in this case.

Questions to consider: (Click here for advice on fact-finding from civil rights mediators.)

  1. What does a fact-finding consultant need to do to make his or her findings credible to both sides? See this set of essays for more general information on fact-finding.)
  2. Are there other approaches to fact-finding, besides hiring an outside consultant? What are they?
  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?
  4. How might you design a fact-finding effort on that/those topic(s)?

Part Eight: Brainstorming Options

The outside expert comes back with the results of her research, and says that discipline does seem to be pretty evenly distributed between racial groups at the school. Nevertheless, she suggests, more might be done to involve students and parents in the disciplinary process, perhaps thereby giving it more credibility.

Ana suggests that you 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 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. She suggests that you divide into four working groups. These include groups looking at:

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

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 kids 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 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 are not 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. Principal Edwards feels stuck in the middle, which makes him 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. Should the mediator try to control the anger in the room?

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  2. How might she do that? Click here for suggestions.

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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?

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  5. What needs to be done differently now?

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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 why you are all there, and of the ground rules that you set in the first session. You begin the dialogue again, but there is still a lot of tension in the room. Everyone decides they should invite some of the Spanish-speaking parents to the next meeting, and hire a translator so that those parents can participate.

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 it was her sons who were the ones attacked by a group of white students with baseball bats. So the story is true. The woman says that her sons have had problems since they started at Agnew. She says that in that case, which occurred outside of school, her sons were treated as the aggressors. Several other women from the group tell similar stories.

Principal Edwards looks deeply disturbed. He asks the women a lot of questions about the incidents. Then he sits quietly for several moments. He tells the women that he feels awful that their children were treated so badly. He apologizes to them. When he has finished speaking, the tension has dissipated a bit. It seems that you might be able to work together again.

You are surprised to see Principal Edwards so upset, and a little touched that he seems to care so much about his students. You've never seen this side of him before.

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 you might be able to say or do to defuse the tension and try to get people working together in a positive way? Or, do you feel that that is not your role? (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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  3. Can you think of anything Ana (the mediator) should have done differently in this session?

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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. As the presentations are being made, you are watching 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?" you ask 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 you 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," you say. "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 I thought would be funny that you and your friends didn't think was so funny."

You flash 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. Do you think you should have targeted Matt and Jeff?

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  2. Was there a better way to do it that would have been more effective?

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  3. Is there anything that Ana could have done to get them to return?

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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 conclusion upon which everyone agrees. 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 the following year. In addition, your group has managed to get a grant from a private donor to establish an ombudsman office and a peer mediation program. You hope that these programs will reduce racism at Agnew. 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 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. Principal Edwards schedules an all-school assembly for the beginning of the following week, to present the report to the school body. He also sends out a note to all parents and a letter to the city newspaper, explaining the process and giving an Internet URL 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, the administration and some of the white students and parents. While communication was almost non-existent before the mediation, you now feel comfortable talking with Principal Edwards and Brian. You feel as if you finally are being listened to and respected. Two years after 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. You feel much more comfortable in school. All in all, you are satisfied with the process and very pleased you played such a major role in getting it all started.


Copyright © 2000-2007
by Conflict Management Initiatives and the Conflict Information Consortium at the University of Colorado