Mediation Service Still In Organizational Stage

News Analysis

Eight months after Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III established the Harvard Mediation Service, the group is still in the organizational stage. Though the service has an office in Holworthy basement, it remains to be seen whether anyone will use it.

Epps said in an interview yesterday that the group will not actively take on its role of conflict negotiation until they have solidified their structure.

"The service is still in its infancy," Epps said. "We are in the phase of having organizational meetings to adopt operational rules."

The mediation service is a body of students, faculty and administrators trained to negotiate conflicts between campus organizations and among individual students.

It was conceived in order to improve dialogue about race relations on campus.

"We have trouble discussing race at Harvard," Epps said. "Everyone wants to improve race relations but wants to improve race relations but they don't quite know how to do it."

But Xavier Gutierrez '95, co-president of Raza, said he fears the service will be treated as the only solution to a complicated problem.

"The positive step is that something is being done," Gutierrez said. "But I certainly don't think its the complete answer."

While Epps agreed that the service is only "part of the solution," he said he hopes "the existence of the service may insure that there are not many disputes" among campus organizations.

By educating different members of the Harvard community, Epps said he hopes to eliminate the problems that cause conflict.

The service was created as an innovative approach to the issues surrounding race relations, allowing for greater student involvement.

Last fall, amid criticism that he had increased red tape since he took over as race czar in the summer of 1992, Epps combined two committees into the Faculty Race Relations Advisory Committee to the Harvard Foundation.

The mediation service was developed in response to a diagnostic report on race at Harvard prepared by the Harvard Negotiations Project and two professional consulting groups, Conflict Management Group and Conflict Management Inc.

The service was formed to act as a "safety net" to catch conflicts of race and related issues on a small scale before they erupt into unmanageable situations, Epps said in an interview early last semester.

Mediators were trained over two weekends last spring, said Naomi Andre, mediator and race relations tutor in Winthrop House.

According to current mediators, the group should be fully functional within the next month.

But several mentioned that though the service has a phone number, no one knows when it will be activated.

Opinion varies within the group as to exactly how ready the organization is to actively negotiate campus conflicts.

"The mediation service has already made a couple of presentations. It really plans to come into full swing in the next couple of weeks," said Assistant Dean of Students Sarah E. Flatley-Wheaton, who worked closely with Epps in developing the program.

Mediator James N. Miller '95-'96, however, said he felt the group had not yet defined how it will make itself available to students.

"We're still definitely figuring out how we're going to put ourselves out this year," Miller said.

Miriam Johnson, mediator and race relations tutor in Leverett House, said she hopes "people don't get discouraged" by the time it takes for the group to get going this semester.

"I think that in order to do something this difficult well, it is going to take a little time," Johnson said

But Epps said he is confident that the mediators is ready to step in should a group request their services.

He stressed that "there are enough experienced mediators to handle a situation should one arise."

Epps said the group has determined its basic structure. The mediators will be assigned to "beats," areas of the college which two to three mediators might cover, he said.

Beats might include houses, student organizations, campus publications and police and community relations, though Epps said the service will remain flexible.

Epps said students will work in teams with faculty and administrators.

Remaining Issues

One of the issues the service is still deciding is what kind of conflicts the mediators will negotiate.

"Originally Dean Epps had the idea to create the Harvard Mediation Service to deal with conflicts surrounding issues of race and ethnicity," Andre said. "But from an early point, we thought we'd extend the focus to move into the area of other conflicts, especially among organizations."

Epps said the mediation service is interested in offering assistance to the Undergraduate Council.

But former council secretary Randall A. Fine '96 said he is skeptical of Epps' offer.

"I have my doubts about this whole theory of conflict mediation," said Fine, who is currently running for re-election. "Who's going to call and request a student to mediate their problems?