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Don't Hate, Just Mediate: Understanding the Impact of a Conflict Mediation Program on Adolescents' Experiences with Conflict, Safety and Help Seeking in Urban Schools

  • Author(s): Gillespie, Jonathan
  • Advisor(s): Wilms, Wellford
  • et al.
Abstract

Conflict, bullying and harassment are serious concerns in our public schools. This kind of school violence threatens not only students' health and safety, but also their ability to learn and have positive, educational experiences. Numerous individual and environmental factors contribute to students' decisions about how to respond to conflict or seek help for these problems. Conflict mediation is one type of program that has received widespread support and adoption; however, the results of many school-based, anti-violence interventions have been mixed. This study was one of the first to investigate the effects of a mentor-based, conflict mediation program that places undergraduate mediators in several secondary schools of a large, urban school district. This study used mixed research methods to examine adolescent students' exposure to violence and help seeking attitudes and the perceptions of students who participated in the conflict mediation program. Survey results indicated that students in the program schools often reported higher exposure to conflict than national surveys with verbal bullying being the most frequent type. In addition, students generally reported favorable attitudes about help seeking. The small schools and the high schools reported the greatest willingness to seek help, which needs further exploration in future research. Program participants indicated that negative affect was the only measure that decreased significantly from pre- to post-test. However, the student interview data suggested that the most important benefits of the mediation program included reductions in feelings of anger and developing relationships with the undergraduate mediators who acted as mentors to the students. Furthermore, the student interviews revealed several factors in the environment such as peer culture and a school's response to conflict, which, if left unaddressed, may attenuate or even undermine the anticipated benefits of the program. Taking these findings together, the conflict mediation program appears to meet the developmental needs of adolescents by creating safe, confidential spaces for students to work through problems independently with their peers. It also represents a unique approach for reducing conflict by providing an alternative to the top down, disciplinary strategies commonly used to deal with conflict and aggression.

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