This chapter provides an overview of community mediation centers, their history, and examples of how three universities are partnering with and housing programming that embeds the values and framework of community mediation. While the National Association for Community Mediation (NAFCM) has always had university members within the NAFCM family, NAFCM looks to continue to support and grow the partnership with and programs that are a part of their university community. This Chapter integrates the work of two of those university partners, Loyola College of Law and the Monterey College of Law as well as the emerging work at Boise State University.
Loyola College of Law houses the Center For Conflict Resolution, a community-based mediation program which has served over 40,000 citizens of Los Angeles County, California since 1993. The Center has 300 to 500 cases pending at any given time, which come directly from members of the community and from social, government and legal service agencies. While the center provides these services in virtually any type of conflict where parties are willing to participate, specialty areas include: consumer-debt, disability, divorce, employment, family and landlord-tenant cases.
The Monterey College of Law houses the Mandell Gisnet Center for Conflict Management. The Center promotes and applies a constructive approach to conflict management. The goals of the Center are to: Promote and apply non-coercive means to reduce the probability of conflict or its damaging consequences; Replace combative advocacy with a mediative, empathetic, problem-solving point of view; Identify and utilize existing local and reginal resources; Provide a curriculum to teach practical approaches to conflict management; Teach a historical perspective on conflict management including the evolution of separation of powers and the emergence of defined civil liberties; Teach and share the result of the Center’s research; and Provide public service through public education, mediation services, reports and counseling on conflict management.
Boise State University offers a Conflict Management Program that focuses on using community mediation skills to assist leaders and managers at all levels, professionals who need high-level people skills and supports the hallmark that anyone interested in effectively managing conflict can learn the necessary skills. Presently the director of the Conflict Management Program seeks to expand the usage and support by the university of practicum experience for his students.
Brief History of Community Mediation
Community Mediation Centers (CMC) are designed to engage with the community to prevent, anticipate, and respond to community conflicts. Through facilitated, mediated, and open conversations, CMCs seek to strengthen relationships between community members and groups in ways that often lead to collaborative resolutions. Community volunteers, trained to be impartial mediators, act to facilitate communication and increase mutual connectiveness between the individuals or groups in conflict. While community mediators may exercise significant influence over the process, the focus is to empower the parties to create their own outcomes. While not a means of formally achieving social justice, mediation supports the aims of social justice by promoting individual justice through participant voice and self-determination. Through a trained roster of community mediators, CMCs create opportunities for dialogue, recognition, collaboration, and ultimately peace.
Community mediation in the United States began with the civil rights revolution and efforts to achieve racial, ethnic, class, and gender equality through the courts and legal action. In an effort to provide neighborhoods with localized conflict resolution services, multiple organizations sprouted nationwide.  The National Association for Community Mediation (NAFCM), the national organization supporting the work of community mediation, today represents a national network of community centers and provides a platform for information exchange, skills development, innovation, and promotion of the impact the community centers and their mediators have in their communities.
While the growth CMC and the practice of community mediation developed in the shadow of the civil unrest of the 1960s, CMCs do not provide social justice as typically defined. The purpose of mediation is not to determine one “truth” or to balance unequal power dynamics rooted in social status, race, or gender. Instead, mediation endeavors to create a supportive and safe environment that encourages free and open expression of everyone’s respective truths. By strengthening relationships and supporting collaborative solutions, NAFCM member organizations address social challenges through dialogue and the peaceful development of interest-based solutions.
Mediation is a voluntary process and participants experience justice by controlling whether and how they want to participate. They may decide for example, even in court-mandated mediations, that the process is not for them. Once begun, a mediation may be ended at any point by the participants or the mediator. With input into the process and control over the process and outcome, participants feel safer to speak their truth which increases the possibility of achieving a sustainable resolution.
CMCs across the country utilize community mediation as a mechanism for furthering social justice aims. CMCs incorporate a justice focus through both their procedures and their overarching founding principles. Procedurally Loyola Center for Conflict Resolution, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles’ community mediation center maintains a justice focus through a foundation of participants being heard and retaining their ability to create an organic resolution for their concern. A guiding foundational principle of the Mandell Gisnet Center for Conflict Management at the Monterey College of Law is that all law students and ultimately, lawyers, need to become better communicators through the study of mediation. Furthermore, all lawyers have an opportunity to give back to their communities by serving as pro bono mediators, side by side with community members. By teaching law students conflict management skills, of which communication is a key component, and providing them an opportunity to practice these skills in the community as a volunteer, the center infuses community and collaboration into traditional notions of law and justice.
Community mediators believe strongly in mediation, in all variations, as a form of personal justice defined by each party’s self-expression, collaboration, and ability to influence both the process and the outcome of a conflict.
Nine Hallmarks of Community Mediation
Social justice is also seen in the Nine Hallmarks at the core of the Community Mediation field. The Nine Hallmarks bind CMCs and community mediators together in both philosophy and practice. Each CMC is at a different stage of embedding and actualizing the Hallmarks into both culture and communications structures of their centers. Established after NAFCM’s founding in 1994 and designed by CMCs, the Hallmarks anchor both new and longstanding centers with shared values rooted deeply in community and collaboration.
1. A private non-profit or public agency program, with mediators, staff and a governing board representative of the diversity of the community served.
In order to be considered a CMC, they must be anchored in the community (including within colleges of higher education), either as a public or private non-profit entity, and must operate for the benefit of the community and not financial gain. CMCs exist in all shapes and configurations, frequently under the umbrella of courts, social service organizations, governmental agencies, and colleges and universities. Because conflict is intensely personal, CMC staff, mediators, and governing board representatives should represent an array of cultures, backgrounds, and values in line with the community segments served. This helps provide a structure within which the community may connect with volunteer mediators and staff with whom they share a common culture, ideally creating the comfort necessary to communicate their needs and concerns.
Building connections in the community is key to create and maintain community representation and involvement. Loyola Center for Conflict Resolution connects to the community through legal service providers, social services agencies and area non-profits. By expanding their service area beyond the campus to the broader community, Loyola is able to foster cultural diversity among staff and volunteers. Mandell Gisnet Center for Conflict Management at the Monterey College of Law interfaces with the courts and is guided by an advisory group comprised of representatives of the populations served. Volunteer and staff diversity anchors CMCs in the community and is the glue enabling a diverse and heterogeneous community to find connection and a means of evolving together. Collaborating with community groups, courts, and other non-profits is a key means CMCs can fulfil the first hallmark.
2.Using trained community volunteers as providers of mediation services; the practice of mediation is open to all persons.
Community members conduct mediations at CMCs to avoid any imbalance of status between the parties to the conflict and the facilitators of the conflict. Mediators do not sit in judgment of the parties or their conflict and must remain impartial. In order to create an environment of “we” instead of you and me, the CMC must train and use volunteer mediators from all segments of the community. A diverse roster of mediators provides legitimacy for the process and creates a safe and comfortable space for mediation. CMCs are learning laboratories for volunteer mediators and the lack of hierarchy between neutral and participant sends the message that everyone can learn and actualize peacemaking skills. Best practices for training mediators includes a clear grasp of the four pillars of mediation: Self-determination, Impartiality, Informality, and Confidentiality. Skills development must also focus on facilitating communication and on collaborating with the parties to create an environment conducive to each participant’s communication style. A recognition of the impact of culture on conflict is essential. CMCs provide both initial and ongoing educational opportunities for volunteer community mediators.
Both the Loyola Center for Conflict Resolution and Mandell Gisnet Center for Conflict Management at the Monterey College of Law train law students and community members to serve as mediators. The trainings are open to all, and serve as a vital vehicle to train diverse group of individuals together as the diversity of experiences and perspectives enriches the learning experience for everyone.
3. Providing direct access to the public through self-referral and striving to reduce barriers to service including physical, linguistic, cultural, programmatic and economic.
Access is a core principal of Community Mediation, and regardless of ability, status, or background all members of the community are welcome to use CMC services. The CMC should provide services without physical barriers to participation, and every participant should be able to communicate in their native language. The environment must be appropriate and comfortable for the participants, and to do so requires aligning the process as much as possible with participants’ culture and values. In order to serve the varied needs of the participants, when preparing for mediation CMC staff listen first during the intake process, before the mediations begin, in order to adapt services and ensure access for all members of the public.
Loyola Center for Conflict Resolution and Monterey College of Law intentionally work to diminish barriers that may prevent someone from accessing services. For example, Loyola Center for Conflict Resolution has a link from their web site so individuals may self-refer without having to first come to the Center. Mandell Gisnet Center for Conflict Management at the Monterey College of Law receives referrals through a formal partnership with the Monterey Bar Association, as well as directly from law enforcement and the community through its program called “The Neighbor Project.” This broadens the knowledge of the work of the center and therefore reducing any preconceived ideas as to who can and can not benefit from these services. Each of the universities have accessible facilities, and have provided sign language and other interpreters when needed.
4. Providing service to clients regardless of their ability to pay.
In order to provide the community with access to CMC services, fees are set on a sliding scale and no one is turned away due to inability to pay. The expectations as to cost and payment are communicated openly from the initial conversation. Payment is handled separately from the mediation to reduce any economic barriers to participation. This value to provide a safe environment to seek resolution also drives the need for CMCs to be supported by local foundations, institutions and benefactors. Loyola Center for Conflict Resolution uses a sliding fee scale and does not charge a fee if someone is unable to pay. Monterey College’s center offers low cost or no cost mediation services.
5. Providing service and hiring without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, age, disabilities, national origin, marital status, personal appearance, gender orientation, family responsibilities, matriculation, political affiliation, source of income.
CMCs lead the way by not discriminating in hiring, in their use of volunteers, and in the provision of conflict resolution services. This is in the missions of both Loyola Center for Conflict Resolution and Mandell Gisnet Center for Conflict Management at the Monterey College of Law and of each larger institution’s mission. The CMCs recognize the different values individuals bring from all walks of life as a positive opportunity to strengthen our communities. For example, many CMCCs across the country handled LGBTQ domestic relations cases when there was no formal recognition of a right to marriage. Both university-based CMCs actively recruit Spanish-speaking mediators and staff, a direct reflection of the communities they serve and where their centers are house. They are willing to meet with anyone who has the willingness and desire to mediate a conflict, either personal or legal. The trainings for mediators also cover in-depth the need to recognize and reduce the impact of their individual bias. The Mandell Gisnet Center for Conflict Management at the Monterey College of Law in December 2017, sponsored a high-level community training on cross-cultural communication and identification of bias in mediation and negotiation.
6. Providing a forum for dispute resolution at the earliest stage of conflict.
Various factors influence conflict escalation in relation to culture and diversity, including power, privilege, hierarchy, miscommunication and labeling. Intervening early in a conflict limits the impact of these factors. Mediation saves public resources by resolving the dispute early in the process, but by encouraging and facilitating participant-created sustainable solutions to the issues underlying the conflict. Participants tend to comply with agreements they crafted that address the underlying causes of the conflict. As a result, mediation often transforms the conflict into opportunities for learning and growth. 
This again matches each of these universities’ missions. Institutions of Higher education are natural environments for conflict resolution as learning laboratories in which to engage people constructively in conflict. At the Loyola Center for Conflict Resolution, community marketing and outreach presentations promoting the program and encourage early use of the process and specifically stress that participants do not need a formal legal dispute in order to attempt mediation.
7.Providing an alternative to the judicial system at any stage of a conflict.
The CMC environment is not the same as a court room environment.The CMC offers an opportunity for the parties to communicate directly and focus on a resolution that works for them. Mediation provides participants with self-determination to explore creative solutions that often go well beyond what may be possible in a formal court process. The process also does not have a third party assess guilt or blame, but have the participants decide what can be done and who can do what to provide redress as part of the resolution of the conflict. Mediation is also cheaper and faster than traditional court processes.
Courts are recognizing the important function of community mediation in the role of providing a forum to seek justice. Mandell Gisnet Center for Conflict Management at the Monterey College of Law receives California judicial funds to implement a mediation program and to train lawyers who then donate pro bono time mediating for the court. In both Los Angeles County (where the Loyola Center for Conflict Resolution is located) and Monterey County, everyone who files a law suit in the county receives a form about the option for mediation and lists all the community mediation centers in the county. At Boise State University, their Collaboration and Conflict Management program partners with the small claims court to supply trained mediators and ensure alternatives to the formal court process. More generally, most universities also operate student judicial boards and must address the conflict needs of faculty, staff, and students. These are generally a hearing process that do not necessarily use mediation, but could perhaps greatly benefit from integrating the process and protocols of community mediation with formally trained community mediation personnel. Opportunities for mediation exist within student and residential life, faculty grievances, and other campus offices that routinely handle conflicts.
8. Initiating, facilitating and educating for collaborative community relationships to affect positive systemic change.
CMCs are often pillars in their communities and the drivers of coalitions formed to address community conflicts. CMC volunteers can play a crucial role in increasing awareness of community mediation, as volunteers are often connected with multiple institutions throughout the community. Facilitating positive systemic change requires CMCs to develop a variety of relationships across the community built on the shared values of trust and respect. As a trusted partner in efforts to resolve community conflicts, CMCs are often most adept at facilitating dialogue and utilizing listening and communication skills to assist the community advocates and sometimes community adversaries, with each other, in identifying culture-based misunderstandings and points of disconnect that often lie at the root of conflict.
To this end Loyola Center for Conflict Resolution has assisted with large groups to see if smaller mediations need to be done before convening the large group together. Training is also offered on communication skills more generally. Mandell Gisnet Center for Conflict Management at the Monterey College of Law has worked with the libraries and veteran’s groups to find avenues to work together and expand the use of the skill set outside of the ‘formal’ mediation forum to everyday encounters and conflict resolution opportunities. Both universities have, through their CMCs, offered training at public housing sites and rehab centers, with clients and workers being trained together on skills of mediation and restorative justice principles. These trainings are also a ripe opportunity for each CMC to expand the volunteer base. Monterey hosts trainings for lawyers and judges to develop a deeper understanding of mediation. Qualified members of the local bar association serve as pro bono mediators in Superior Court for Monterey.
9. Engaging in public awareness and educational activities about the values and practices of mediation
CMCs endeavor to create a broad public awareness of conflict resolution services and training opportunities available for community members and groups in conflict. Outreach efforts include frequent presentations and trainings targeting a variety of groups, including bar associations, courts, chambers of commerce, social service providers, schools, faith communities and government agencies. CMCs are open to and encouraged to partner with groups, agencies, and organizations that share the core values of both the CMC and the community. As CMCs are staffed by community members and are enmeshed in the fabric of the community served; often the CMC is the first to become aware of rising tensions in the community and the opportunities for peaceful interventions. Public awareness and educational activities are one strategy for creating broader awareness of the need for conflict resolution services.
Institutions of higher education tend to focus on essential skills like reading, writing, and analysis, but often skills needed for facilitating collaboration are overlooked. Training in mediation, a formal problem-solving model of conflict management, teaches critical skills and demonstrates how these skills can be applied to instances of conflict and opportunities for collaboration. An essential practice for CMCs is to educate the community about the resources and skills opportunities offered. Mandell Gisnet Center for Conflict Management at the Monterey College of Law reaches out to their community through social media marketing to raise awareness about their services. Mandell Gisnet Center for Conflict Management at the Monterey College of Law also attends many fairs and other public and civic gatherings to keep their presence in the forefront and the knowledge current on the issues that concern their community. The Loyola Center for Conflict Resolution specifically has a dedicated part time outreach coordinator to increase awareness of the services that the center offers.
Opportunities for Collaboration
As CMCs are embedded within the communities they serve, they provide unique incubators for students of conflict management and peace studies to explore the dynamics of relationships and conflict that exist in their local communities. CMC services are provided by volunteer mediators, offering students opportunities to become volunteer mediators and practice the skills, processes and theories introduced in the classroom. There is no substitute for mediating actual conflict, and CMCs provide opportunities to practice with experienced community mediators. This experience provides excellent opportunities for service-based learning. For example, volunteer mediators could gain experience by assisting in training student peer mediators in schools or working with jail inmates to be peer mediators in prisons.
Opportunities may also exist to partner on programming to facilitate dialogue and address campus conflict. Many colleges and universities operate mediation centers that serve the broader campus community. The development of a successful CMC requires 1) Partnership with a variety of entities and campus offices to ensure ongoing case referrals, 2) Recruitment and training a diverse and skilled roster of volunteer mediators, and 3) Successfully securing ongoing funding. Often academic programs with a focus in conflict resolution, peace and justice, or law develop CMCs to further their experiential learning, community service, and applied research goals. For example, Boise State University’s Collaboration and Conflict Management program is in the incubator stages of exploring the establishment of a campus-based community mediation center.
If you are interested in accessing learning and skills development opportunities for students and positively impacting the campus and broader community, developing a community mediation center within your college or university, or partnering with a Community Mediation Center can help provide those opportunities. To find out more please visit the National Association for Community Mediation at NAFCM.org or contact D.G. Mawn, President, NAFCM by phone at 602.633.4213 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Authors: Primary authors: Dr. Brian Pappas, Boise State University and D.G. Mawn, President, NAFCM.
Contributors: Sara Campos, Associate Director of Loyola Center for Conflict Resolution, Los Angeles; Jacqueline Pierce , Executive Director and Associate Dean, Mandell Gisnet Center, Monterey College of Law; and Laura Smythe, Director of Pro Bono Programs, University of Wisconsin, School of Law.
- Established by the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Community Relations Service (CRS) in the Department of Justice created a non-violent and constructive model nationally for dealing with community conflict that continues today. Initial programs began in late 1960’s and 1970’s in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Columbus, Ohio, and San Francisco and focused on prosecutor-sponsored programs for criminal conflict and neighbor disputes mediated by community members. In 1976 a National Conference on the Causes of Popular Dissatisfaction with the Administration of Justice, known as the “Pound Conference,” resulted in “Neighborhood Justice Centers” in Los Angeles, Kansas City, and Atlanta where people could access dispute resolution services and actively participate in crafting faster, cheaper, and more often appropriate resolutions than crowded and overburdened courts could provide. ↵
- Community Mediation Centers must create a safe space of respect and an environment for conversation built upon an assumption that different cultures and perspectives are equally valuable. Conflict is often born of or exacerbated by biases inherent in different cultural perspectives. ↵
- Parker, C. 2015, Practicing Conflict Resolution and Cultural Responsiveness with Interdisciplinary Contexts: A Study of Community Service Practitioners, Conflict Resolution Quarterly 12(3) 325-357 ↵
- The institutionalization of mediation into current court processes is a primary factor explaining the difference in how mediation is practiced in community versus legal contexts. Where the law and the formalities of court procedures (particularly the relevance of evidence and likelihood of certain court outcomes) may be considerations in any mediation, community mediation focuses on non-court issues like culture, communication and building relationships. As a result, community mediators may be experienced in facilitating certain types of conflicts but do not require specific subject matter expertise. Distinct from mediation in a legal environment, community mediators do not predict court outcomes, pressure resolution, express opinions, or evaluate the merits of the conflict. CMCs favor a mediation model that supports participants’ direct communication and opportunities for mutual recognition and agreement. ↵