Ken Frank and Mary Lou Frank pose for a portrait. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Competition Without Conflict

For more than 15 years, Brenau has had a competitive team unlike any other on its campus. Vying to be the best peacemakers in the nation, students on the mediation team practice their conflict resolution skills in national and international tournaments. This fall, Brenau will host mediation teams from across the globe in two international competitions.

Gloria Clark is a member of two Brenau teams. On one she races past her competitors, and on the other she sits next to them.

The junior from Decatur, Georgia, competes on the Golden Tigers track and field team, but she experiences another sort of rush when competing on her other, truly unique Brenau team. The mediation team, now in its 17th year, allows undergraduate students from a variety of concentrations to stretch their conflict resolution skills in carefully structured tournaments.

“Honestly, track and mediation differ only slightly,” says Clark, a conflict resolution and legal studies major. “Of course they differ physically, but mentally they are so similar. When you’re running a race, believe it or not, you are thinking about the race the entire time. It’s all strategy – the same goes for mediation. It’s like a race to me. It’s strategy. It’s competition.”

Ken Frank, director of Brenau’s conflict resolution and legal studies program, and his wife, Mary Lou Frank, adjunct instructor in Brenau’s psychology department, have trained undergraduate and law students in mediation techniques both in the United States and abroad. The duo are both Georgia state-certified mediators, or “approved neutrals,” and Ken, who has a juris doctorate, is the U.S. vice president for education of the International Academy of Dispute Resolution (INADR).

Mediation competitions are broken into rounds, and each round includes six student participants. Two act as co-mediators, while the other four form two advocate-client pairs. All six sit together at a table, and the co-mediators help the pairs work through a given case for a panel of judges made up of local attorneys, mediators, judges and more. The pairs are typically formed with students from separate schools, creating a spirit of collaboration throughout the tournament.

“That’s one of the really great things about this competition,” says Ken, who is also the director of the conflict resolution and legal studies program at Brenau. “It’s unlike mock trial, where you sort of huddle to yourself. Mediation forces you to work together with students from other schools.”

Clark, who participated in mock trial in high school, says that’s one of her favorite things about mediation. It allows her to meet people and communicate in a more holistic way.

“It is really cool for me to see, especially,” she says. “Because track and mediation are both individual and team sports or activities. When you run track, you have an individual event, but your placement goes toward the points you get as a team. Same with mediation. I can be the only mediator from my school in a round, but my performance can affect my whole team.”


Gloria Clark, legal studies and conflict resolution. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)
Gloria Clark, a conflict resolution and legal studies major and member of Brenau’s track team, finds many similarities between track and mediation. “It’s all strategy,” she says.

International influence

Mediation at Brenau originated, in a way, from both mock trials and the real thing. The Franks were at the forefront of the mediation education movement, wanting to bring the skills to the next generation of peacemakers. “Many years ago, I came to the conclusion that there had to be a better way to solve disputes than the legal system,” Ken says. “I was in it. But I would walk away from hearings, and nobody was happy.”

Brenau participated in its first undergraduate mediation tournament in 2000. Every year since, Ken “has been very blessed” to take a team to the national – and now international – mediation tournament, he says. Brenau hosts its own annual invitational tournament and has hosted the international tournament twice, in 2012 and 2014, and will do so for a third time this year.

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Brenau’s influence in the mediation world grows annually. Last fall, the Franks were trainers at the international tournament in Greece. They also spent the winter in Krakow, Poland, establishing a mediation certification program.

“That was wonderful,” Ken says. “We had a group of 36 students that we trained, working with Jagiellonian University. There were six trainers: three Americans, one from Great Britain, one from Greece and one from Poland. We worked together and trained these students in what we call basic mediation skills.”

The idea to bring a mediation training program to Poland originated with two Polish law students who first met the Franks at an international mediation tournament in Chicago years ago. They met again at the international tournament in Greece, where the Franks trained the tournament judges and participants.

The Franks each wrote letters to the Polish government about creating the program. INADR then teamed with Jagiellonian University, which has one of the finest law faculties in Central Europe. The Franks trained law students, but they also trained lawyers, psychologists, social workers and other community leaders. “And they were so eager to learn,” says Ken. “It was a really good experience.”

Mary Lou says working with future leaders here and internationally is something she and her husband both enjoy. “It is exciting to be a part of their learning, just like it is teaching at Brenau,” she says. “It is humbling to be a part of the process that helps people become the peacemakers of tomorrow.” Every time Ken teaches or trains in mediation abroad, he finds himself blown away by the reception. “Most cultures have some sort of conflict resolution process built into their culture,” he explains. “We’re basically teaching a Western style of conflict resolution. We try to be respectful, because we think we can learn from them too, and we do.”

Ken describes their style of conflict resolution as “transformative mediation.” It’s more about healing relationships, he says, than solving problems.

The international opportunities for mediation competition benefit both the students abroad and the Brenau students who mediate with these students from other countries. “It gives everyone more ability, skills and tools to use in trying to resolve conflict,” he says.

Invaluable experiences

Brenau’s mediation team will have a busy fall. The 15th annual Mock Mediation Invitational Tournament at Brenau will be Friday and Saturday, Oct. 6-7. Last year, the competition had 22 teams, including one from as far as India. The Brenau mediators will then attend the Conflict Resolution Symposium at Georgia State University, where they will hear a guest speaker and take part in a small competition. Finally, Brenau will host the 2017 INADR International Intercollegiate Mediation Tournament on Nov. 9-11.

Despite the whirlwind schedule, the experiences these students will have is invaluable and Ken is thrilled to see them have so many opportunities to hone their skills. The Brenau invitational also includes training, which gives participants tools they can use in the tournament rounds.

The mediation program at Brenau benefits from and is dependent upon the generous support of the local law and mediation community and its own advisory board, made up of lawyers, mediators and alumni who participated on the team themselves as students.

Mary Lou said the mediation team is open to and useful for all students, regardless of major. “Mediation builds skills in listening, self-awareness and conflict resolution,” she says. “Everyone benefits from learning how to listen, beyond the words being spoken, to what is being meant. Learning how to recognize our own issues that may get in the way of working with other people is likewise essential for all of us.”Ellie Anglin, BU ’15, was on the mediation team as a conflict resolution major at Brenau. Today, Anglin is a registered neutral with the Georgia Office of Dispute Resolution and owns her own small mediation business, going wherever she is needed in Georgia. She helps with a variety of cases and is trained in three categories: civil, family and domestic violence.

Anglin says she too likes being able to help people without the legal system. Yet she’s dipping her toe in it and continuing her education at the University of Georgia School of Law this fall.

“Dr. Frank and his wife are so great and supportive,” says Anglin. “He recently wrote me the recommendation letter for law school. That completely tipped the scale.”

Anglin says being on the mediation team isn’t exactly like being a full-fledged mediator but, “It gave me practice. Especially speaking in front of other people. The competition is different from real life, but Dr. Frank did so well preparing us for the real thing.”

This, for Ken, is the whole point. He smiles as he rattles off the names of former students like Anglin who use their mediation skills today – some as lawyers, others as social workers, hospital employees, human resource representatives and much more.

“I’m just really proud,” he says. “It’s gratifying to see how well they’ve done. I don’t claim any credit for it. It’s their work, and I’m just so glad when they want to come back and help us continue.”

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