Cultural identity is not always understood and dealt with effectively in the field of mediation. Race, gender, sexual orientation, age (whether elderly or adolescent) socio-economic disparity, disability are often the elephant in the room when people are attempting to resolve a conflict.
The Diversity Project was initiated as a result of The Dispute Resolution Center’s decision to address the lack of diverse and disenfranchised communities participating in the mediation process, as mediators and as disputants.
The initial intention of the project was to expand the volunteer mediator pool of the DRC to reflect the demography of its service area, Washtenaw and Livingston Counties, and to increase the level of awareness of Board Members, Staff and Volunteer Mediators’ personal sensitivities and cultural competence. An anticipated consequence of the project was that the DRC become more welcoming and accessible to volunteers and clients from more diverse ethnic, cultural and religious segments of the community.
Many community mediators lack the life experiences or professional skills to be effective mediators in conflicts involving cultural identity. The Dispute Resolution Center conducted a basic 40-hour State Approved Mediator Training in November, 2007, in which all invited participants were individuals from minority communities. 21 local individuals from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds were selected for their leadership qualities and interest in the peaceful resolution of conflict, as well as their familiarity with the community and its cultural context. A subsequent evaluation was conducted by Professor Michael Spencer, University of Michigan, School of Social Work. To build upon this evaluation, the DRC embarked upon a further study to examine other centers’ training curricula and practices with a specific focus on issues of diversity and cultural competence.
In 2009, The Michigan State Court Administrative Office (SCAO) commissioned the DRC to conduct a nationwide study to research best practices in diversity training and cultural competency in community mediation settings. The study included training practices both within Michigan and across the United States. An online survey was sent to almost 300 agencies in the country, with 44 agencies responding and subsequently contacted through follow-up phone interviews.
The report, available on the DRC website www.thedisputeresolutioncenter.org in November, reflects what the DRC learned and its recommendations for Michigan’s community mediation centers and their thousands of mediators. One of the significant findings has been to highlight the effectiveness of expanding the role of community mediation centers into providing facilitators for groups dealing with issues of race and religion.
As a leader in Michigan in the field of diversity and conflict resolution and training, The DRC and its 120 volunteer mediators are poised to provide significant leadership to the other 19 agencies around the State.