A Stead-Fast Mediator

Caroline Stauffer, a trained and certified mediator and instructor for the Los Angeles City Attorney Office (LACA), Community Justice Initiative (CJI), was a graduate from Pepperdine University, obtaining a B.S. in Business Management. She then pursued a Master of Business Administration from the Graziadio School of Business, concentrating in Leadership and Organizational Change and Dispute Resolution. Furthering her education in Dispute Resolution, Caroline completed her Master of Dispute Resolution (MDR) at Pepperdine’s Caruso School of Law. It was here that Caroline says, “I never knew what my path was going to be until I stepped into my first class at Pepperdine Law School. As soon as I did, I found my home, I wanted to be a mediator”.

Working as a full-time mediator, Caroline also became Chair of Los Angeles for the American Bar Association (ABA), in the Women In Dispute Resolution (WIDR) section for community engagement. She currently plays a role in the WIDR leadership team to assist in the mission of diversity and equity. As she was determined to participate in the “international spectrum of conflict and education”, Caroline continued to pursue outside organizations, landing on Mediators Beyond Borders International After reading MBBI’s mission, she offered her mediation expertise to the board and quickly became a member in 2019. “I love Mediators Beyond Borders International because the organization is always presenting different learning forums. There’s always a discussion, always a place where you can use your skills with the interactive sessions, and ideas are always welcomed”.

Serving the Community

Prior to her attendance at Pepperdine University and career in mediation, Caroline was a United States Navy Aircrewman, Cryptologic Technician (CTT) serving 5 years, specializing in air reconnaissance. Through her experience, Caroline realized that even in the U.S. military, where communication is essential to life or death, a conflict existed due to cultural stigmas; “it’s a warrior culture that often builds up walls; it is not popular to share what you truly think or feel”. 

Caroline’s post-Navy career, along with the completion of her university degree, was guided by her deep desire to bridge the information gap between communities. This eventually led her to the Los Angeles City Attorney Office, Dispute Resolution Program (DRP). After some training sessions led by a co-mediator, Caroline quickly rose as an extremely successful peacebuilder, as her trainer exclaimed, “She’s a natural”. She became a Senior Mediation Specialist for the DRP and managed the public safety mediations for the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), Community Police Unification, and the Los Angeles Fire Department.

She brought about her own personal dialect to her skillset claiming that “you have the traditional structure but then you bring that individual flare to it.” Bringing your personal style to mediation was the cornerstone of what she taught volunteer mediators. Explaining the importance of restorative justice in conflictual dynamics, Caroline acknowledges “I have the great honor of serving my community”.

“Every city is so complicated”

Although Caroline responded to claims corresponding to the LAPD, she acknowledges the divergent struggles that each city undertakes and the importance of understanding each other’s backgrounds. Distinct cities bring unique educational backgrounds, races, gender, and mental illness within the community. Communication is one of the most powerful tools in understanding these multiple dynamics and enables one to “get to the root of how they view themselves”. Mediation aids with this process, securing a safe place for people to openly communicate and understand their threatened identity.

She distinguishes between identity and roles in the community, arguing that miscommunication and misconception of one’s integrity can alter damaging responses from either party. Caroline explains that mediators have asked how to approach discriminatory issues and the response is simple, “Just ask. When you are purely asking because you care, people are not going to come at you contentiously. They are going to be open to wanting to share”.

In light of the persisting riots across the U.S., Caroline reminds us that “not everyone is responding to a mutual interpretation of the situation”. Voices augment to support people’s confirmation bias and “our relationships tear apart and we lose trust”. It is absolutely critical in the globalized world we live in today, to understand one’s cultural and communal ties. Caroline urges us to engage in peaceful dialogue, stating that, “we are all a part of the community, we just play a different role”. This is essential to her new role as a Restorative Justice Practitioner with the LACA, Neighborhood Justice Program. A diversion program that takes a holistic approach to criminal charges and arrests by having participants (offenders) interact with the community panelist (victims).

“Resolution can look like anything”

Caroline states that mediation is “preparation for the end game”. Everyone needs to understand what is currently going on in their community and how it promotes a self-awareness check. This fosters cross-cultural communication and reconciliation between groups. She explains that facilitative dialogue needs to begin with a silo structure and progress to collaborative efforts. In this way, we can first understand the internal structure before engaging in dispute resolution techniques. “When people just don’t understand, it’s our job to help provide perspective and the possibility that the issue can move forward” she asserts.

Caroline Stauffer brings this perspective and experience to her mediation trainings, claiming “I have learned from all my personal challenges and mistakes and I want other people to know their fear, know yourself because overlooking your experiences impedes you from being successful”. In this rapidly changing world, we must listen to these growing concerns because, “When the community speaks, the community has a strong voice”.

Article by Emily Shultis, MBBI Writer