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Reflections on Conflict Mediation Training as a Sustainability Intern

Smiling woman with dark hair sitting with plants on shelf and white walls behind

By Lauren Michaels (’19)

Conflict in City Government

During my last two years as an Environmental Studies student at Augsburg, I worked as the Sustainability Intern for the City of St. Louis Park in the Environment and Sustainability Department. I worked at St. Louis Park City Hall alongside a small team of employees to implement the city’s Climate Action Plan, which lays out a road map for the city to reach carbon neutrality by the year 2040. Our job was to encourage residents and businesses to reduce their energy usage and promote the use of renewable energy in place of fossil fuels. The biggest challenge I faced during my internship was adapting to the constant undercurrent of conflict that is considered “normal” when working in public policy. Government employees must balance the interests of residents, businesses, developers, homeowners, city council members, and other groups and everyone needs to participate in the planning process when deciding on the actions to take that will shape the city. With so many clashing groups and interests at the table, conflict was inevitable and always present. I saw conflict stem from lack of citizen trust, lack of government transparency, failure to involve affected groups in the planning process, etc.

A Chance to Grow

As an undergraduate student and newbie to local government, I was pretty uncomfortable in this environment. I wanted to solve all the problems and make everyone happy, thinking that if I “worked hard enough” I could get everyone what they needed. I found myself people-pleasing and overworking to avoid additional issues and accepting work that was beyond what an intern should be assigned. This motivation to “fix” quickly led to frustration and resentment. After a year of avoiding discomfort, I decided to try a new approach by seeking some extra training in this area. After doing some research online, I found Conflict Mediation Training through the Conflict Resolution Center of Minnesota (CRC). My hope was that I would be able to use these skills to manage stress and conflict, making my internship more tolerable. I applied for and was awarded a scholarship to participate in a 5 day, 30 Hour Civil Facilitative Hybrid Mediation Class from the CRC and sustainability grant funding to cover the other half. I applied for this additional grant through the Environmental Studies program at Augsburg and I’m very fortunate to have been awarded these grants since I wouldn’t have been able to afford this type of training on my student budget!

Conflict Mediation Training

For five days, I got to work individually and in groups with experts on conflict and communication, learning about mediation from the ground up, beginning with understanding how and why conflict arises, moving on to how to support others in conflict and finally, how to facilitate conflict between two parties and reach a mutual agreement. Each day I learned new skills and concepts that I was able to take home and try out, many of which have become permanent in my communication style. Here are some concepts that have stuck with me most:

  • Win-Win Thinking > Zero-Sum Thinking: As humans, we tend to use zero-sum thinking, which you can read more about here and avoid this pattern by switching to win-win thinking. We do this by remembering that there can be more than one winner in conflict and a possibility usually exists where all parties involved can win or get what they need from the situation.
  • Self Determination = Empowerment: Research has shown that people in conflict are more likely to follow through on a solution they come up with together, rather than a suggestion made by an outside party. This means that the most important factor in conflict mediation is that those two people figure it out together, without intervention. It doesn’t matter if a 3rd person has the best answer or knows who’s right and who’s wrong, self-determination of those involved leads to feelings of empowerment and outcome that those involved will support.
  • Say “No” to Indefinites: Avoid the words “always” and “never”, for example,  “you never do the dishes,” or, “I always do all the work.” It doesn’t make sense to use indefinites because it’s not possible for someone to always do something and you don’t know if someone will never do something in the future, so focus on speaking for yourself and using “I” statements to clearly express your own wants and needs.
  • We Mirror One Another: Humans tend to unconsciously mirror one another, meaning that If you want someone else to stay calm, you must stay calm and you’ll have a greater chance of having that other person reflect that energy back at you.

I didn’t become a conflict resolution expert or find a magic solution that allowed everyone at my internship to work together harmoniously, but I did gain skills in conflict resolution which boosted my confidence and eased anxiety. Knowing that I was a tiny bit more prepared to handle a conflict made the undercurrent of tension at City Hall more tolerable. During the training, I practiced remaining neutral in conflict situations and staying on the outside of them, rather than becoming emotionally involved. I gained clarity on how to take a step back, which lessened the weight of responsibility I carried around at my job. I became a better listener which has improved my relationships in and out of work. Having the opportunity to explore the situations that made me uncomfortable during this training was empowering and made conflict feel less intimidating.

Scholarships and Training for Students (Especially BIPOC Students)

The last note to make is that I believe all students, especially black and indigenous students, students of color, and students from low income and underserved communities should set aside time to reflect on their skills and consider applying for scholarships to complete additional training that would help in the job they are seeking after college. Many organizations have scholarship funding set aside for students. If you can’t find scholarship information on their website, don’t be afraid to reach out via email and ask if there are funds available for students. If you find a training that’s a good fit for you and there are no scholarships available through the organization, check in with your school! Ask the director of your program or your academic advisor if there are grants available. You’d be amazed at what they can find for you. If the training will help you excel professionally, there’s a good chance your school will be willing to support that financially. Besides gaining extra skills, this is a great way to gain extra confidence when entering the workforce and boost your resume. I encourage all students to explore additional training before they graduate, especially those from communities that have been historically and systematically discriminated against.


My name is Lauren Michaels. I’m a community activist with a passion for social justice and an interest in using storytelling as a healing modality. In December 2019, I received a bachelor’s degree from Augsburg University in Environmental Studies and am currently seeking a position that allows me to expand my writing and media skills. Connect with me at: www.linkedin.com/in/laurenmichaels2020

 

New Design for Augsburg Community Garden

As the spring semester and the opening of the new Hagfor’s Center for Science, Business, and Religion come closer and closer, the Augsburg community says goodbye to the layout of the community garden we have known and loved since 2007. With the design of the new building, a new campus Master Plan, and a growing need for gardening space to expand across campus, Augsburg has decided to update the design of this space so that it is a permanent fixture of the campus and visible commitment to our continual experiment with what it means to have public space on our campus. After working with designers from Oslund and Associates, gardeners, and campus stakeholders to lay out a design based on shared goals and principles, the new garden will have a more modern look while still making space for the creativity of gardeners.

greens growing in the garden students working in the garden

The biggest notable feature of the garden, will be that our new space will have 63 plots instead of the current 70. With newly planned accessible pathways and irrigation systems replacing the dirt trails that have gotten smaller and smaller over the years, some garden space needed be taken for better organization. The new plots will be easily distinguishable and farther separated from each other with pathways in between. Benches will now serve as both storage and gathering spaces for gardeners, Augsburg folks taking lunch breaks or doing homework, and neighbors looking for greenspace.

found objects inthe garden students saving bricks form the garden

Although not everyone is happy about the newly designed look, others are excited to have more structure in the garden. Some folks would like to keep it as the natural, organic (in many ways), creative space it has been since gardeners began taking ownership and making it their own. Some of the sustainability-minded folks  are disappointed that we have to say goodbye to reused objects, such as the bricks, poles, barrels, boards and random structures (e.g. crutches) that are both functional and artistic parts of many gardens. Although many things are leaving, many things will stay too – the tools, some of those found objects, plants, and seeds are staying and will be reused with the addition of new ones as well. Many other things from the old garden found new homes in neighbors’ gardens and yards, including our shed, which was graciously (and carefully!) transported to a brand new Cedar-Riverside garden at Timber Park (photo below) that the West Bank Community Development Corporation has been organizing with residents.

garden shed in new location garden under construction

The new garden is expected to open in spring 2018 and construction began last week. If you are unable to get a plot, fear not. The new plots are designed to be replicated across campus. Spaces where there is open green grass may soon be turned into more garden plots! Because the new space will have both raised beds and in-ground garden plots, gardeners are looking forward to partnering with A Backyard Farm this spring to learn new growing techniques and make the most of the growing space. You can support this effort on Give To The Max Day on Nov. 16! 

new garden design

-By Joshua Marose (’21), ESC Intern

 

Native American Film Series

It’s been posted all over campus and online but here’s another reminder. The first screening of the Native American Film Series is tonight.  Yes, that’s right.  TONIGHT. The 2014-15 season will focus on environmental issues and climate change from the perspective of various indigenous groups.
Tonight’s event will feature Listening for the Rain: Indigenous Perspectives on Climate Change.  A discussion will follow after the screening with the filmmakers, Jeff Palmer (Kiowa), Filoteo Gomez Martinez (Ayuuk) and sociologist, Sonia Davila-Poblete.  Wish you had a little more information?  Well, then read about the filmmakers and check out the trailer.

Sateren Auditorium- Music Hall
715 22nd Ave South
Reception 6:00-6:30
Screening begins at 6:45
Discussion to follow screening

Bike Fix-It Station

See our feature in the Echo!  On September 9th we sponsored the annual Transportation Fair and revealed our brand new (and very high tech) bike fix-it station.  This is just one of the many great things we have planned this year.  Keep watching that Augsburg calendar and checking our blog for the latest environmental news and events on and around campus!

Bike FixIt Station