In recasting the race relations bureaucracy over the past year, Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III simply stepped back.
Epps has played an active, handson role in managing race relations since he was appointed the campus' "race czar" in 1992. But in meeting complaints that the race bureaucracy was muddled in red tape, he did more than just combine committees.
He created a body of student, faculty and administrative "mediators," trained them and put them in charge.
The race czar's hope was that the Harvard Mediation Service could resolve disputes before they turned into crises.
Epps wanted to distance himself from the bureaucracy and to establish a body that could mediate disputes through the approval of the conflicting parties, not the Dean of Student's office. Epps became just one of the mediators.
Giving students an active role in resolving racial disputes was a bold move by Epps. In dealing with such matters, the recent trend at Harvard has been to create committees.
The Harvard Mediation Service is a group of students, faculty and tutors who are trained by professional consultants to negotiate racial conflicts and improve the dialogue between disputing campus groups and individuals.
The mediation service was formed in response to a diagnostic report on race relations at Harvard prepared by two professional consulting groups, Conflict Management Group (CMG) and conflict Management, Inc. These groups also trained the mediators in two weekend sessions this spring.
Epps bills the service a "safety net," which would deal with racial conflicts before they erupt into major problems. But he says he realizes the mediators "can't settle issues just by solving disputes."
In an interview this month, Epps said that while the mediators will continue to concentrate on racial issues, they will also be prepared to mediate other disputes such as conflicts with the student government.
When training sessions for the mediators started in March the race czar participated not as dean but rather as a fellow mediator.
Epps says his role in the service will be at the member level. "I have been trained and would hope to have a beat myself," the dean says. He also says he will not be on the steering committee, which will consist of students, faculty and administrators.
Dara Orenstein '96, a mediator, stresses the importance of distinguishing the mediation service from the Dean of Students office.
"Dean Epps did create the Mediation Service, but he is not controlling it," she says. answer to him. "We do not answer to him. There could be conflicts between Epp's office and student groups we might want to mediate."
Epps says the mediation service should be distinct from the Dean of Students' office and earn the respect of the campus on its own.