Empathy

 

S.Y. Bowland

Director of The Practitioners Research and Scholarship Institute (PRASI) and mediator, based in Atlanta, Georgia

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003


This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Because communities of color, in addition to looking at credentials, may also want to view you as a person, the way that you "have your presence" is important. The way that I came to the table and the way that I presented myself was important. I was there with the people. Even though this was an informal setting, I was called in to sort of represent or be a part of the court, or facilitate some issues, ideas, images, or positions of the legal system. What I try to do is make the parties feel at ease, even though there is a clear understanding that there is a serious matter that brought us here.

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All people have a tendency to look at me, but my experience is that sometimes when it is a person of color there and then I walk in as a mediator, I can sometimes sense that a feeling of anxiety has been lifted. This may be because there is some understanding that I have about the toughness or the anxiety that is present in their being a part of the process.

An example of that is when I mediate matters in juvenile court. I think that there is not always a clear communication — or clear interpretation — of what the outcome will be when a child has to come to juvenile court. When a juvenile is coming from the court or from a juvenile mediation program, people still feel a sense of tension around what it will really mean for the juvenile to be caught up in a system where there is clearly an overwhelming presence of young people of color, and men and women of color. There is always a trust issue about what that means. I've always thought that, just like we had the apologies regarding the Tuskegee Syphilis experiments, that one day we will get apologies for this criminal justice system, because so many people that we see from our various communities are going there.