Diane Kyser is the founder and co-executive director of the Community Mediation Center in Independence. Now in its 12th year, the center provides “impartial, third-party facilitation for the resolution of disputes” among individuals and entities across Jackson County.
Kyser, who plans to retire at the end of 2012, has received several awards this year for her work, including the 2012 Martin Luther King Jr. award from the Independence Human Relations Commission, as well as the Jackson County Inter-Agency Council’s Human Service Award.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared April as Mediation Month.
|1. During Mediation Month, what have you and your staff been doing to get the word out about it?||
I wish I could say we’ve been doing a lot. All I can say is that we’re constantly busy. ... There is also some legislation now that is paying more attention to mediation and restorative justice practices. There is a (Missouri) House bill that is encouraging what we call alternative dispute resolution approaches. It’s the result of Pew (Research Center) involvement in studying the Missouri justice system and how it could become more efficient and also do a better job. One of the things they are suggesting is that sentences be looked at with an eye to the possibility of encouraging some alternative processes to help the courts dealing with people who come before them, in ways that aren’t quite so litigious and adversarial.
|2. You hear a lot in the media today about bullying in schools. How does that affect your line of work?||
We do bully prevention work in schools, as schools call upon us. It’s really an issue of funding. Up until last year, we had a federal grant that (U.S. Rep.) Emanuel Cleaver had acquired for us, and we were able to be in schools without having to charge the schools for service. That grant funding ended after three years, and we had hoped the schools would realize the benefits of the program and then find ways in their budget to fund it themselves. But, everybody is struggling, and the schools haven’t had the extra money.
That’s all by way of saying the demand for our service is pretty incredible, and we don’t even advertise it, really. Many, many schools would probably want us to do the bully prevention work, but we don’t have the resources to go in.
|3. Do you think bullying is a new phenomenon, or has the advent of things like social media made it more prominent?||
I think it’s been an ongoing problem, but it’s certainly been exacerbated by social media. Name-calling and put-downs, it seems like, have almost become a way for kids to interact with each other playfully to start with, and then it gets more and more malicious. And now that we add social media to that, that same kind of name-calling, put-down, gossipy sort of behavior is perpetuated in a much more rampant sort of way. But, bullying has always been around.
|4. You mention that the Community Mediation Center is constantly busy – is that a good thing, meaning that people are reaching out to you, or is that bad thing?||
The reason we are so much busier is this: Three years ago, Kansas City closed its Human Relations Department mediation program. That program had been started 30 years ago by Alvin Brooks, and it had run successfully for 27-1/2 years when it was ended. It was ended as the city of Kansas City decided to move its emphasis toward Aim4Peace, but in the wake of the loss of that program, the neighborhood disputes, the landlord tenant issues, the lower-level conflicts that are part of everyday life, no longer had a place to go.
And so, Kansas City folks started calling us. That’s, in fact, what has kept us the busiest – we really have a stronger presence in Kansas City. We served over 10,000 people last year.
|5. If you could tell the public one thing about community mediation, what would it be?||
I think I’d start by saying that conflict is normal. Every single person has conflict in their daily lives, and sometimes, we’re able to handle that conflict on our own. But sometimes, we need help. ... Relationships matter, and sometimes, we just don’t stop to think about that and the ongoing consequences of not creating positive relationships – and sometimes, we don’t know how. So, that’s the point of a third-party, impartial facilitator, to help people sit down in respectful sorts of ways to come to understand each others’ perspectives and think of ways to move forward that meet everybody’s needs. ... I think people are a little shy about coming to mediation because they feel like you come to mediation if you believe you don’t have a strong enough case to win. Really, my perspective is that we all win or we all lose.