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University of Oregon office launches mediation training program for Spanish speakers

University of Oregon office launches mediation training program for Spanish speakers

In what might be the first program of its kind in the country, a University of Oregon office recently offered a series of trainings for Spanish speakers to become mediators.

The Oregon Office for Community Dispute Resolution supports 12 centers across the state where trained mediators help residents settle disagreements before they go to court.

Those disputes can range from neighborhood arguments over fence lines and noisy dogs to eviction and juvenile justice cases.

“It’s an opportunity for individuals, groups and organizations to create their own solutions and retain decision-making authority while holding people accountable for their actions,” said Patrick Sponsler, the OOCDR administrator.

But with 15% of Oregonians speaking a language other than English at home, there are gaps in the communities that the office can reach.

Even though the resolution centers provide interpretation services, Sponsler said things can still get lost in translation, especially when tensions are running high.

“When parties are reaching out to the centers… they’re under a lot of stress, so they’re looking to build trust and be able to move forward,” he said. “One of those ways of connecting is being able to speak to the party in their first language.”

The office began looking for Spanish training programs 18 months ago, after leaders at the resolution centers expressed a desire to better connect with and serve Spanish-speaking communities.

Sponsler assumed the office could use a program implemented by mediators in other states, but it became clear that Oregon might have to build its own program.

“I was actually a little surprised as to how there aren’t these trainings available across the nation,” he said. “It was a little bit of a surprise that there was a build that needed to be had.”

Veronica Bañuelos, a Portland-based consultant, developed the office’s Spanish mediation training and led its first workshops last fall.

One of the biggest lessons she tried to incorporate was the role that power dynamics play in mediation.

“One of the things I train mediators on is… to see when you’re standing in for the system,” she said. “[And] for us to be really clear on understanding the different dynamics that are at play, and to be able to normalize that and bring those into the table.”

While linguistic nuances are important, Bañuelos said cultural nuances are more likely to get lost in translation.

She said, in general, Spanish-speaking communities tend to be more interdependent and relationship-based than many English-speaking communities. She let that communal focus guide the structure of the workshops.

“The way that I teach in English is different than the way that I teach in Spanish,” Bañuelos said. “We tend to do more relational things, you know, ‘How have you been practicing your tools this week?’ And really diving deep into some of those personal stories.”

Gabriela Buamscha participated in the new mediation training for Spanish speakers. Though she’s a biologist by trade, she’s long had an interest in conflict resolution and had already completed basic mediation training in English.

Taking the training in Spanish, though, was a completely different experience.

“I literally relearned the whole process of mediation,” she said. “When we speak in our first language and we’re surrounded by people who share the culture, we access our emotions much better.”

Read the complete article here.

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