Portland State’s Conflict Resolution Graduate Program is working with the Campus Public Safety Office on a new program that would have public safety refer calls that have no immediate threat to graduate students from conflict resolution. Conflict resolution and public safety signed a memorandum of understanding on Feb.
Conflict Resolution and CPSO make assistance agreement
Portland State’s Conflict Resolution Graduate Program is working with the Campus Public Safety Office on a new program that would have public safety refer calls that have no immediate threat to graduate students from conflict resolution.
Conflict resolution and public safety signed a memorandum of understanding on Feb. 15, which lets conflict resolution students deal with low-conflict public safety calls, such as disputes between roommates. When public safety is called to a scene, the officer may decide to call the conflict resolution program and have a graduate student mediate the incident before public safety is involved.
“Public safety handles a lot of cases that should be dealt with informally,” said Stan Sitnick, faculty adviser to the Dispute Resolution Center. “The way the system will be set up, it will be the decision of the officer whether they think it’s a case to try mediation. And if that’s the case it will be better for the students.”
Sitnick, who drafted the memorandum, modeled it on a community mediation program he created for the Clackmas County Sherrif’s Department.
“Other communities do the same thing,” Sitnick said. “It’s something new and, we’ll see how it works out.”
While the need for a mediation program on campus has been steadily growing, the problem stems from misuse of campus resources rather than an increase in interpersonal conflicts on campus, Sitnick said. The program is a step that Mike Soto, director of PSU Public Safety, has been moving towards for some time, said Sitnick.
Soto said he has been working with conflict resolution on the program for about a year. He said that having conflict resolution deal with cases that do not have an immediate threat will prevent police involvement and a possible criminal record for cases that do not need it.
“It’s just a resource,” Soto said. “It doesn’t mean we’re going to have to do it all the time.”
“It’s a good idea, for more options for campus safety to deal with problems,” Sitnick said. “It gives officers more flexibility.”
Though the new center is part of PSU’s Conflict Resolution program, it will be operated by conflict resolution graduate students volunteering their skills in mediation and CR training instead of being funded through the department. Without funding, the center is not eligible for its own office space but faculty are in discussion about volunteer space around campus.
“We have been talking with the ombuds office, which deals with student-professor conflicts,” said Gianni Baratta, a conflict resolution graduate student and representative member of the new center. “Maybe we can use conference rooms there for mediation.”
On-campus locations for student and legal services have been suggested along with other volunteered space.
“We don’t have a physical office, but there is a dedicated phone line,” Sitnick said.
As the new center is a work in progress, the new memorandum will be revisited every quarter to allow for necessary changes and adjustments.
“So we’re not necessarily stuck with one position,” said Baratta. “It’s about finding out how to be effective and be of service.”
The program has been a long time coming, but is something that was necessary, according to Rob Gould, an advisory board member for the new center.
“It’s exciting that we’re doing this,” said Gould. “It gives graduate students a chance to mediate and work with conflict on campus and it’s a better use of campus security to be able to refer cases when they aren’t security issues.”
The center has been something that the conflict resolution has been trying to set up for years, according to Gould.
“It’s a little hard to get established because there are customary ways of handling things. Plus there’s a funding issue-not just volunteer time for grad students, but staff and faculty.”
The memorandum provides a much better use of time and resources, Gould said.