Special Campus Memo: Ombuds Office Review and New Initiatives

May 08, 2019

The Ombuds Office, established when I joined the College in 2013, is a resource available to the entire college community — students, staff, faculty, and administrators — to help address and deal with difficult campus situations. More broadly, the Ombuds Office exists to help facilitate open, transparent, civil, and respectful dialogue and processes when conflict occurs. A community that works together with respect for all, especially when very divergent positions are involved, is a powerful community.

Last fall, with guidance from the Ombuds Advisory Council, we engaged the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program (HNMCP) to conduct a five-year review of the Ombuds Office. Earlier this semester, the review process was successfully concluded with a number of valuable recommendations; the two most important being that the Ombuds Office should:

  1. explore ways to increase awareness of the office and understanding of its role on campus, and,
  2. seek ways to share conflict management skills with individuals and groups positioned to manage conflicts.

Acting upon HNMCP’s recommendations, the Ombuds Office will embark on a campaign to emphasize the importance of valuing and supporting a culture of respect and accountability in our community. We will focus our efforts on community building and shifting the culture around conflict.

In addition to my background as a lawyer and mediator, I came to Grinnell with a strong interest in the role that restorative processes and practices can play in promoting reconciliation of interpersonal conflict. In my first year here, I had the opportunity to complete a workshop through the Project on Restorative Justice at Skidmore College. Over the last five years, the Ombuds Office and Student Affairs have incorporated elements of restorative practices in working with individuals, student organizations, and other groups.

Given my experience and interest in restorative processes, President Raynard S. Kington has requested that the Ombuds Office take the lead in involving the wider campus community in restorative practices. I have convened both a steering and subcommittee for restorative processes and practices to work with me on this project. The committees will help to begin brainstorming about our community needs and involvement in preparation for wider campus engagement, which we hope to embark on early in the fall 2019 semester. The Ombuds Office will rely heavily on all campus members to partner and collaborate in these initiatives to build a better and stronger community.

I am grateful to the Ombuds Advisory Council and to members of the campus community for participating in interviews, surveys, and focus groups throughout the HNMCP review process. I am especially grateful for the many hours members of the campus community graciously volunteered to assist the Harvard team during their visit last October. Without your help, it would have been impossible to carry out this project.

The HNMCP recommendations will be implemented while the Ombuds Office continues with its mission of facilitating conversations, providing a confidential space to share concerns, and working with the campus community on conflict resolution.

Sincerely,

Chinyere Ukabiala
Ombuds
Grinnell College

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