Finding Community with the Harvard Mediation Program

by Kate Strickland ’24

Originally published on the Harvard Law School website

I started HLS in Fall 2020 which, as many will remember, meant that I was part of the class who spent our entire first year online due to the Covid pandemic. Unlike many of my peers, I found virtual law school had several advantages. First and foremost, in all of my online interactions, I got to be just another head in a Zoom box instead of the quadriplegic woman in a power chair that I had been since my accident during my first year of undergrad. Online, my disability was no longer the first thing everybody knew about me; I retained the choice to decide whether to disclose my disability. Virtual law school also meant I got an extra year at home in an environment designed for me, so I did not have to stress over finding accessible housing or navigating the often-perilous sidewalks of Cambridge. Plus, attending classes online meant my Texan blood got at least one year of reprieve from the snowy Cambridge winters!

That said, I feared online law school might make finding a supportive and inclusive community even more difficult than usual. I would not have the opportunity to sit next to friends in classes or spend time getting to know others between classes. Further, even without the added online complication, I still frequently struggled to find an inclusive community. As an example, in undergrad, I tried joining student organizations to connect with others but found some organizations met in classrooms where I could access only the back of the room or would often hold social events in inaccessible venues despite my requests. To give myself the best possible chance of success at HLS, I decided to attend as many virtual information sessions as possible to learn about all the various clubs, student practice organizations, and journals. I came across the Harvard Mediation Program (HMP) during one of these many virtual information sessions.

HMP is a student-led organization that pursues a dual mission: education and community service. This means that HMP trains classes of mediators and puts on events focused on alternative dispute resolution (ADR) while also offering free mediation services to the community. HMP mediates a variety of topic areas and offers its members the opportunity to mediate small claims cases in six different District Courts in the Greater Boston area. I was immediately interested, despite my lack of mediation knowledge or experience, because I believed mediation skills could teach me how to best approach the sometimes-contentious conversations that arose when seeking disability accommodations and increasing accessibility. Thankfully, I was accepted into the program later that fall and went through online training in Spring 2021.

Read the full story here.

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