USD Club Proves Mediation is Route to Success

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When so much of our world seems to be full of conflict, three students at the University of San Diego see another route.

Rather than emphasizing the differences between people and the divisive problems that separate us, Cindy Bower, Kelly Wu and Ryan Bubnack see communication and camaraderie as the right course. As part of the USD Mediation Team, these three seniors and faculty advisor Rick Custin, a USD clinical professor of business law and ethics, have set their sights on mediation as a mutually beneficial route to peace.

“We are officially called the Law and Business Mediation Club,” says Bower. “What we do is teach students skills on how to be peacemakers and utilize alternative dispute resolution.”

“It’s about peacebuilding,” adds Custin. “This is very current today in a world full of violence. Can people find another way to resolve their disputes?”

International Component

Currently in its fourth year at USD, the mediation team incorporates a multi-disciplinary approach to conflict resolution, recognizing that mediation is not confined to a courtroom or national disputes; it is something that is necessary in all aspects of peacebuilding.

That is why, for Custin, USD is a great fit for an organization such as this one.

“We emphasize [at USD] internationalization and an international component. We’ve got a great international center and the Institute for Peace and Justice,” Custin says. “I also think it’s important that students learn something about peacemaking … rather than litigating disputes, finding common ground and allowing the parties to fashion a remedy.

Custin believes both the campus environment and students involved are what make this club so successful.

“They were successful because they have some natural talent [and] they are genuinely nice people. I mean that sincerely,” he says. “It’s a special kind of student who is good at this; you have to have empathy and love people.”

This special characteristic is what Custin credits for the team’s recent November sweep at the International Academy of Dispute Resolution (INADR) tournament held at Drake Law School in Des Moines, Iowa. Custin describes his team as the “winningest” team, even though the initial mindset going into the tournament was to just enjoy the opportunity.

The “Winningest” Team

For the team, being recognized for their hard work was a great experience, but it was the opportunity to compete together and against other like-minded students from around the world that was the most inspiring part.

“I really liked interacting with schools from all over the country,” says Wu. “Mediation is the new way to facilitate problems. It is a growing area compared to going to litigation, which costs so much in terms of time, money, and emotional expenses.”

For Bower, being involved in mediation tournaments has proven beneficial in understanding different ways of thinking.

“Mediation allows you to think differently. It allows you to think in a creative way, because in litigation, you can only really get money,” she says. “In mediation, you can get pretty much anything. Most of the time when people go to mediation, what they really want is the truth or an apology letter or to be recognized. It’s a different way of thinking.”

The students agree, though, that being involved in mediation provides more than an exciting opportunity; it cultivates valuable life skills.

“Overall, it’s a great experience. These are applicable skills. We all have different majors, [but] the skills can be used in any setting with any conflict,” says Bubnack. “It’s a lot of fun being a part of a team and going somewhere and representing our school.”

Why Choose Mediation?

The students credit their successes to Custin, who Bubnack describes as a “great teacher.” Custin, who has been actively involved in the USD campus for 13 years through the business school and has been recognized by the school on numerous occasions with faculty awards, is a well-known member within the mediation community.

Currently an INADR board member, Custin sees the future of mediation as essential within multiple disciplines, including in law and in business. In a recent article published in The Law Teacher, Custin writes that mediation is an alternative dispute resolution route and that students are able to acquire skills and applied knowledge in how to effectively mediate.

With these skills, Custin believes mediation will prove to be the cost-effective, relationship-building, and individually empowering opportunity that can settle disputes in mutually satisfactory ways. Custin is confident that students versed in mediation will be more apt to approach conflict through a peacebuilding mindset, rather than focusing on winning a dispute.

The Future

Thankful for the support they’ve received from the campus and from the School of Business, most notably from Dean Jaime Gomez, Associate Dean David Light, business professors David Pyke and Jo Hunsaker as well as club co-advisor Brooke Harrington, an undergraduate advising manager in the SBA, the team is excited for what’s next.

For Bower, that means becoming an audit associate with RSM Accounting firm in October, Bubnack will most likely go into real estate, and Wu will be starting a new job in Ireland after she graduates from USD.

For Custin, that means searching for the next USD mediators. Although it is tough seeing the students he’s watched grow over the past two years move on, he knows that the next group of mediators is right around the corner.

“No team is ever the same, and I’m never going to have a team like this again,” Custin says. ”[However], I can have another team that will accomplish great things.”

Custin adamantly believes that it is those he is sending off now and his future student mediators who will go out into the world and truly embody the passion for changemaking, making peaceful resolutions more common in our world.

— Allyson Meyer '16

The student and team awards from the INADR tournament: Outstanding All American Individual Mediator Award (1st Place), Outstanding All American Individual Mediator Award, Outstanding All American Advocate/Client Team Award, Advocate Client Team Award, Mediator Team Award, Team Spirit Award, and All American Status. Cindy Bower received an additional award, the Stephanie Jennings Memorial Award for Outstanding Mediator.