LACBA Update Back Issues - January 2015

Full Circle: Student Mediator Earns Master’s Degree, Returns as Adult Professional to Peer Mediation Program

Editor’s Note: Although we don’t always witness the results of our efforts or realize what someone will take away from our interactions, here’s one story that illustrates the impact participation in the Peer Mediation Program had on one student.

LACBA Center for Civic Mediation (Center) hired a new college graduate, Amber Ali, to serve as a Youth Services Program Coordinator with its Peer Mediation Program at Maclay Middle School in Pacoima.

Amber was inspired to earn her master’s degree in Negotiation, Conflict Resolution, and Peacebuilding as the result of a journey that began when she was 12. After September 11, 2001, Amber became a victim of social isolation, name-calling, bullying, and violence. She got involved with the Center’s Peer Mediation Program at Andrew Carnegie Middle School. As she writes, her path came “full circle” after college when, as an adult, she returned to the program, this time at Maclay Middle School as its Program Coordinator.

Amber tells her story:

On September 11, 2001, Al Qaeda threatened our national security by orchestrating a terrorist attack on the American people. This attack devastated our nation, and many innocent lives were lost. In the wake of this attack, the American people joined hands, and a new era of patriotism emerged. We were proud of our nation and its accomplishments. We displayed our flag on our cars, homes, and even backpacks. We vowed to stick together, support one another, and combat any subsequent threats.

I was a middle school student in 2001. At the age of 12, I am not sure whether any of my peers or I truly understood what had just happened. Our parents and teachers were constantly watching the news, listening to the radio, or reading the newspaper. What we understood was that someone got hurt. We also understood that when someone gets hurt, there must be someone to blame.

On 9/11, we learned that the hijackers were terrorists. Within days, we learned that the terrorists were Muslim. Within days, we heard the names of Al Qaeda and its leader, Osama Bin Laden.

As child psychologist and educator Dr. Haim Ginott stated, “Children are like wet cement. What ever falls on them will make an impression.” Suddenly, all Muslims became terrorists.

For the first time in my life, my peers became interested and even obsessed with my religious and ethnic background. My friend’s parents became hostile toward me. I was no longer allowed to go to their homes after school, to go on outings with them, or to receive invitations to their birthday parties. At school, I instantly became a victim of social isolation, name-calling, bullying, and even violence.

I thought that I was as American as the rest of my peers. But somehow, my last name, Ali, began to raise red flags, and I was hated for being a Muslim. I pleaded that I wasn’t a terrorist or related to Osama Bin Laden, but that did not stop the hatred.

Discovering the Peer Mediation Program

The faculty and staff at Andrew Carnegie Middle School observed this transformation. A counselor referred me to the LACBA Center for Civic Mediation (Center) Conflict Resolution and Peer Mediation program, hoping that I would find solace there. Indeed, the Peer Mediation Program at Andrew Carnegie Middle School had a lasting effect on my life. 

The Peer Mediation Program equipped me with leadership and conflict resolution skills. I learned how to communicate effectively and efficiently without oppressing others. I actively participated in resolving conflicts through the practice of mediation with my peers, and I was recognized for peacebuilding in my campus community.

The Peer Mediation Program transformed my outlook on life. I was able to recognize, at an early age, that violence and ignorance were not answers to resolving conflicts.

The community of Andrew Carnegie Middle School experienced a profound effect from this program. The overall understanding and peace among the students and faculty increased while the level of violence and suspensions decreased. This helped ensure that the students were getting the most out of their middle school education and experience.

Personally, I was able to stop worrying about the conflicts that I was facing and to focus instead on school and other extra curricular activities.

On to College

After finishing middle and high school, I completed a bachelor’s degree in Political Science with a minor in Anthropology. My goal during my undergraduate education was to develop an understanding of human behavior as it related to politics. Following my undergraduate education, I completed a master’s degree in Negotiation, Conflict Resolution, and Peacebuilding from California State University, Dominguez Hills. I became increasingly passionate about perpetuating peace and understanding through programs of mediation and conflict resolution.

One of the final requirements for this graduate program was to obtain a hands-on experience in the field of mediation. I was fortunate to be able to intern with the Center.

During my internship, I was able to go back into the communities of Andrew Carnegie Middle School and Carson High School to help facilitate their Peer Mediation and Conflict Resolution Programs. My supervisor was at a loss for words when expressing how proud she was of my accomplishments. She stated that with completing this internship, I came “full circle” in the Center’s conflict resolution and mediation program.

Becoming Youth Services Program Coordinator

I truly came full circle when, after graduation, I was offered the position of Youth Services Program Coordinator for the Center’s Peer Mediation Program at Maclay Middle School in Pacoima.

This program is important because it makes a noticeable difference in the lives of those who participate. It is priceless to see young individuals develop mediation and leadership skills, and to use those skills in their daily lives.

I am hopeful that they consider careers in mediation just as I have. We are making a difference in their lives, and they are making a difference in their greater communities by perpetuating peace through nonviolent methods of conflict resolution.

For more information about the LACBA Center for Civic Mediation, please contact Andrew Culberson, Director, at aculberson@centerforcivicmediation.org.