Center for Dispute Settlement helps community find safe ways to handle issues

Disputes are a part of life and are oftentimes unavoidable. Engaging in productive conflict management, however, can be healthy and lead to positive, effective resolutions. When transitioning from home to living with strangers or friends as roommates—especially during the college years—disagreements can happen frequently and can cause a great deal of stress to the parties involved. Fortunately, Geneseo students have the opportunity to take advantage of the Center for Dispute Settlement as a resource.

Located at 6 Court St. at the Livingston County Government Center—but with numerous locations in New York State—the Center for Dispute Settlement is a nonprofit organization that offers mediation for students and community residents alike. Whether an argument involves someone from your school, job or just another community member, the center will provide mediation with an objective third party who is trained and certified as a mediator.

“Conflicts can become the central focus of an individual’s day if they are not dealt with, taking time away from study, friends and peace of mind,” Livingston County Center for Dispute Settlement director Letitia Rosenthal said. “From years of reading students’ conflict journals, I know the great variety of interpersonal disputes they are faced with in the course of a semester.”

Senior Tiffany Huang is a community intern at the center’s Livingston County location. While her chief duties involve mostly administrative work, Huang noted that her immersion into the field is enormously rewarding, as well as relevant to her double major in sociology and communication. Huang expressed appreciation for the skill of her supervisor Rosenthal.

“I’ve learned a lot from [her]. She’s so empathetic and speaks in such a composed fashion—even in agitated situations,” Huang said. “I’ve become more conscious of voicing feelings in a way that’s not aggressive, as well as seeing things from other people’s perspectives and realizing some fights just aren’t worth getting into.”

During her internship, one of Huang’s undertakings was generating student awareness of the center.  “A lot of students—especially freshmen struggling with the transition into college—may face disputes with peers and roommates,” she said. “The Center for Dispute Settlement is available to help them, but most don’t know about it or don’t realize non-permanent residents of the area can take advantage of it.”

Rosenthal reiterated the idea that Huang’s work as a student intern not only benefits her own life, but the lives of her fellow peers.

“Tiffany is providing a valuable service in planning outreach measures to students on campus,” she said. “By making them aware of the services Center for Dispute Settlement can provide, she is empowering them to deal with situations that can otherwise escalate … As the situation polarizes, it becomes harder for the individuals involved to resolve it themselves.”

The center’s process of mediation allows the parties in opposition to engage in a more peaceful dialogue than they may otherwise have. The goal of the mediation sessions is to facilitate non-violent discourse, resulting in drafting an agreement both parties are comfortable signing and adhering to.

“Basically, the center provides an alternative method to litigation for conflict resolution. A lot of the cases I’ve seen so far are custody and visitation,” Huang said. “Essentially, mediators are just there to moderate and help keep the peace. They don’t get to have any say over what happens in terms of final negotiations—the agreement the parties reach is completely in their own hands, whereas if they go to court the judge mandates a settlement.”

Subsequent to a contract of resolution, the Center for Dispute Settlement will conduct a 12-week follow-up to check in on the status of clients’ situations. Additionally, the center will check to see whether they’re adhering to their agreements.

“We try to call them and talk to them personally,” Huang said. “Obviously, sometimes issues turn up and people come back, but overall, I think it’s more successful than not.”

Everything that is said within mediation is confidential, unless there is an outstanding case such as various forms of physical abuse. Mediation is completely voluntary. If at any time one party decides not to go through with reaching an agreement, there’s no legal obligation for protraction.

Mediation provides a forum where people can openly talk and be in a comfortable space with an objective third party present, which can help minimize hostility directed at the other person. Regardless of the type of conflict individuals are engaged in, it can be an invaluable opportunity to have a certified conciliator help facilitate discussions about disagreements.

The Center for Dispute Settlement offers a resource that may be helpful to anyone—including students—who is experiencing seemingly irresolvable discord.