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Managing Conflict and Crisis

Managing Conflict and Crisis:

A Student Affairs professional needs to have the ability to respond effectively in a variety of crisis and conflict situations among students, the campus, and/or other community groups.  In order to do this, the Student Affairs professional must be able to respond calmly and thoughtfully in crisis/conflict situations, provide leadership and positive solutions in the midst of the crisis/conflict, and play a supportive role for students and co-workers who have been adversely affected by a crisis/conflict.

Mediation Training

Roommate Mediations

Confrontation Training at Cal Poly Pomona, Foundation Housing Service

Behind Closed Doors

Crisis Response

Student Death

Suicide Attempts

Self Harm

Mediation Training:

During RA training at Cal Poly Pomona, FHS, I had the opportunity to participate in and help lead mediation training for the Community Advisors (CAs).  This training provided the CAs with information about styles of responding to conflict, ways to help prompt conversation with all parties involved, and a model of how to facilitate a mediation.  During this training, we had the students role play with one another mock mediations.  This training gave the CAs tangible information for how to manage conflict between their residents, roommates, and/or other people they may come in contact with.  Because the CAs often deal with conflict between roommates, the RDs wanted to make sure that they were as prepared as possible to deal with the situations they may face.

After my year at Cal Poly, I came to APU as an RD.  One of the aspects of Resident Advisor training that had not been developed was mediation training.  Because of my experience in presenting and walking students through mediation training, I have been able to provide other RDs and RAs information on how to conduct a mediation with their residents.  Below is a copy of the training that I used at Cal Poly Pomona and has now been adjusted to fit the needs of the RAs at APU.

Mediation Training Model

Roommate Mediations:  

I discussed in an above section that I have had the chance to lead training on mediation for my student staffs.  At times, the mediations that residents need are more complex and difficult than my student staff can handle alone.  As a result, I end up conducting a mediation between roommates, friends, etc.  Often, I will have my student staff member sit in with me to watch and be another set of eyes and ears.  Some of the residents that I have had the chance to talk with in mediation settings have been dealing with issues of cleanliness with their roommate, lack of understanding of cultural differences, and a plain dislike of the other person.  During these mediations, my hope is to help students understand one another and see from someone else's viewpoint.  I also want them to openly talk about their frustrations as well as what they appreciate about their friend or roommate.  At times, I will help the students develop a contract that discusses in detail the behaviors and actions that they will take in an effort to help the situation at hand.  These contracts include details about the cleanliness of the room, times that visitors can be present, language that can be used in the room, and many other things.

Confrontation Training at Cal Poly Pomona, Foundation Housing Service:

As an RD at Cal Poly Pomona, FHS, I had the opportunity to co-present a session titled "Crisis and Confrontation".  The training consisted of three parts.  The first part of training taught the Community Advisors (CAs) how to effectively manage crisis situations by teaching them how and when to contact the RD on duty, when to call the Campus Police, and when and for what to contact Facilities Management.  During the second part of training, we discussed the cycle of assertive confrontation, which shows how to approach residents and people who may be violating policy.  The third section of the training noted the differences between "CONfronting and CAREfronting". 

Crisis and Confrontation Training Model

Behind Closed Doors:

At both Cal Poly Pomona, FHS and Azusa Pacific University, I have been able to facilitate hands on training that helps the Community Advisors (CAs)/Resident Advisors (RAs) learn how to confront other students.  This training is called "Behind Closed Doors" and consists of various scenarios that the CAs/RAs must confront.  The scenarios that the RAs/CAs confront include a party, drugs being used, a roommate conflict, a medical emergency, and a suicidal student.  After the confrontation occurs, a Residence Director (RD) debriefs the scenario with all the CAs/RAs involved.  During the debriefing time, the RD makes sure that the CAs/RAs understand the policies involved as well as how to appropriately handle the situation. 

Behind Closed Doors Scenarios

Behind Closed Doors Guidelines

Crisis Response:

As I discussed in the competency on counseling and personal development, I serve in a rotation as the first response person in crisis situations both in my living area and within other living areas on campus.  Crisis situations may include medical emergencies, severe eating disorders, fights, suicidal students, and many other things (I have dealt with all of these situations).  In my role as the crisis responder, I work directly with the students involved - students who may gather to see what is going on, the student in crisis, and any friends that may be involved in the situation.  The following sections of this competency will highlight crisis situations including student death, suicide attempts, and self harm in which I have served as the first response person. 

Student Death:

Probably the hardest situation that I have had to deal with in my time as an RD was responding to the death of one of my residents.  During my first year as an RD at APU, a woman in my building was killed in a car accident.  I was the first staff or faculty person to learn of her death.  This was a difficult situation because I had no training in this area.  My first response was to talk with the friends who had come and told me.  They were devastated and did not have any idea of what to do.  I talked and prayed with them and simply made myself available for them.  After dealing with the initial response, I told the friends that I needed to contact my supervisor so that we could notify the appropriate people, make sure everyone in the community was taken care of, and do our best to help in the situation.  After talking with the appropriate people, I did my best to talk with residents in my building, go with my RA to tell the women on the wing that a friend of theirs had passed away, and provide a safe place where people could meet together to tell stories, cry, laugh, and pray.  During the time of dealing with this crisis, I made specific efforts to talk with the woman's roommate and my RA to make sure that they were both taken care of.  I also spent a lot of time talking with my supervisors and following their lead as to how to deal with this crisis.  This experience helped me learn a lot about the needs of an entire community and how to facilitate a safe place for people to break down.  I was stretched in my role as an RD, a friend, and a support to the students in my building.  I was also stretched in my ability to ask for help and take the support from others around me.     

Suicide Attempts:

Another difficult situation that I have responded to every year that I have been an RD is a suicide attempt.  Every one of these instances has looked different and has been at a different extreme.  As the RD dealing with the situation, it is important that I notify the appropriate people: my supervisor, Campus Safety, Counseling Center, etc.  If the student is not already at the hospital, one of my actions is to talk with the counselor to determine if the student needs to be taken to the hospital for medical attention and a psychiatric evaluation.  If it is possible, I also spend time talking with the student who tried to take his/her life. 

In my experience, the follow up from dealing with a suicide attempt can often be just as draining as the actual attempt.  If the student comes back to campus, it is important to make sure that he/she is alright and in a healthy state of mind.  One of the ways that we work with students who have attempted suicide is to place them on a behavioral contract that defines for them who they can contact if they are feeling suicidal as well as action steps they can take to help deal with their feelings (go to counseling, journal, talk with friends who will contact needed people, etc).  At times, it is also necessary to follow up with roommates and friends to make sure they are dealing with the situation alright.  One of the biggest conversations that I have had with friends emphasizes helping them draw appropriate boundaries and not take on the situation as one they can fix themselves. 

Suicide attempts are scary situations for all people involved.  I am very thankful that the residents that I have had to work with because of a suicide attempt are doing alright and seeking the help they need.

Self-Harm:

The last crisis situation that I want to discuss is that of self-harm.  This is becoming a much more common issue among students.  It is important to note that self-harm is not a suicide attempt, but a cry for help of some sort.  In my time as an RD at APU, I have talked with several women who are classified as cutters.  My response has been to talk with my supervisor about the situation.  Ultimately, our response has been to get these women connected with the Counseling Center as well as place them on a behavioral contract.  The contract tells them who they can talk to if they are feeling the need to cut; it also outlines steps that they will take if they want to remain residents in the building.  The steps they will take most often include going to the Counseling Center or an outside counselor on a weekly basis as well as checking in with me on a semi-regular basis.

While at NASPA in 2004, I had the chance to attend a seminar of self-harm.  It was very helpful in understanding reasons why students may choose to self-injure as well as responses that institutions can take to help these students. 

NASPA Presentation on Self Harm

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