two sets of hands facing each other with tech devices and coffee cups

An annual conference bringing together youth peer mediators for more than 30 years is going virtual for the first time. Hosted by University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s Spark M. Matsunaga Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution in the College of Social Sciences, in partnership with more than 20 Hawaiʻi organizations, the conference aims to connect peer mediators around Hawaiʻi and others aspiring to develop their own peer mediation program. Free virtual events are being offered throughout the month (details below).

The 34th Annual Peer Mediation Conference kicked off on April 7 with an opening panel on peer mediation programs across the state. Experts describe peer mediation as a process where two or more students involved in a dispute meet in a private, safe and confidential setting to work out problems with the assistance of a trained mediator.

The opening panel featured Susan Chang, MediationWorks; Noelani Anderson, West Hawaiʻi Mediation Center; Shelly Andrews, Kailua High School; and Majidah Lebarre, Kuʻikahi Mediation Center. It was moderated by Katie Ranney, Conflict Resolution Alliance president, and UH Mānoa alumna with a master’s in communication and graduate certificate in conflict resolution from the Matsunaga Institute for Peace.

“The Matsunaga Institute’s involvement in the Peer Mediation Conference is at the core of its mission to promote cross-cultural understanding, collaborative problem solving, critical thinking and lifelong skills to groom leaders to address contemporary and complex issues near and far,” said José Barzola, educational specialist and affiliate faculty at the Matsunaga Institute for Peace. “The conference brings together people of all ages with a shared passion to be conflict resolvers, as well as the ability to further equip them with the skill sets of collaborative governance through facilitation, mediation and negotiation.”

30+ years of peer mediation

Chang has trained thousands of students and adults in Hawaiʻi on conflict resolution techniques such as mediation, and has led the conference since its inception.

“Conflicts are a part of our everyday life,” Chang said. “It helps to remember that we all have choices in how we handle those conflicts. Trained peer mediators can’t tell people what to do but they can help people think, talk about what’s happening, and work with them to figure out a fair solution.”

Free virtual events

For more information, visit the Spark M. Matsunaga Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution website.

This work is an example of UH Mānoa’s goal of Enhancing Student Success (PDF) and Excellence in Research: Advancing the Research and Creative Work Enterprise (PDF), two of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

—By Marc Arakaki