Capacity Building through Systems Design

 

Nancy Ferrell

Former CRS Mediator, Dallas Office; Private Mediator and Trainer


[Full Interview]

If you want, they gave me permission to share the document we came up with. It's beautiful, it's incredible--especially the kinds of things that became institutional change and long term response. They created a long term process for responding to incidents on campus. That became institutionalized in and of itself.

In some CRS regions, their style and philosphy is to deal with each incident separately and move on because there's too much to do. In our region, we had too much to do, but we still believed that we were in a conflict and were invested in it, so we wanted to see what kind of an impact institutionally or systemically we could have. So unless there was a violent incident that occurred-- something that would draw us away from the case we were working on at the time-- we would see it through. Our first priority for chosing cases was always the level of violence, but then it was how broad of an impact can we have. I know that was different from region to region, but I preferred that. Something that I really enjoyed was to be able to spend the time and see institutions and communities change. I think that was probably the biggest joy, to see people who didn't have hope begin to see each other in different ways and realize that not only have we walked through this together and come up with a good solution, but the next time something happens, the community will we have a way of responding that's built on trust.

Question:

This was the same group that you had constituted?

Answer:

Part of that group became the first task force. Then they had in place the criteria for replacing themselves over time. Because the students would have to rotate. But they put in the document, ways for the group to replace itself as time passed. We did the brochure out of the group. We had it designed and printed up out of that process.

Question:

And what is the task force's purpose?

Answer:

There was one overwhelming interest that came up. That was the minority students' lack of anonymity when they needed it, when they felt they were being discriminated against. So part of it was to create a buffer between them and the complaint in the classroom or housing or whatever. So that they had a place to go to deal with the problem, and then that group became part of their voice. Obviously they'd still be identified, but here's this task force group looking at it, so that the faculty member or housing authority or whatever is not just dealing with this student, they're dealing with this task force. And the task force is made up of a cross section of the university, who says discrimination is not appropriate. So it gave them some buffer against the majority because you can't create an environment where they can be anonymous, when there's so few. So how do you create a place where they can be safe? So that was the purpose.

The other was to try to be pro-active. Looking at additional ways where we are not meeting the needs of our students, where we are not encouraging minorities to stay here, and be a part of the campus. They looked at things dealing with handicap access, housing, the systemic kinds of things that affect students. The different programs that the university has, why are there no minorities in this particular program? They had the two goals, as I remember. One was to create this safety net for the individual, and the other was to be pro-active in proposing and recommending change for the institution to continue to do that. I think they called themselves the multi-cultural action team. They wanted to be sure that "action was a part of their title.

Question:

Were there any provisions in the document that addressed what would happen if any of the provisions weren t followed, any enforcement mechanism?

Answer:

Generally, yes. I can t remember specifically on that document. We always had the "what if s," and our agency was a recourse as far as calling us to come in and help interpret and redefine or help the parties begin to implement. The things we did, like the task force, became recognized groups under the president, and reported directly to the president. So they had their own legitimacy and recourse. Any violation fell in under existing policies and procedures. So it wasn t outside the system. It was just creating this place where people were focused on ethnic relations and discrimination and helping these people who were pretty much isolated to get redress. The remedy was available there; it just wasn t being exercised, because people were afraid to seek remedy.

Question:

Were they less afraid once the committee was formed?

Answer:

Yes. I think it was a significant step. The interest to the institution was partly that they needed to keep minorities on campus, so their interests were being served in different ways by the whole process.