Raye Rawls is an award-winning registered mediator, arbitrator, and dialogue facilitator. She was introduced to mediation during her first year of law school at Georgia State University “a long, long time ago.” She now works at the University of Georgia’s Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, mediating governmental, non-profit, and community cases.
Raye says her path to alternative dispute resolution was borne of an early interest in the concept of justice. “I was highly active in the Sixties’ civil rights and protest movements,” says Raye, “doing some things I promised my mother I’d never tell.” Both parents were college graduates, and they had long emphasized education as the true measure of success. Thus, in the midst of her activism, Raye pursued and received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a master’s in human resources, both from Georgia State University.
Career opportunity led Raye to an 11-year job as a suicide hotline counselor, which she likens to the work of a firefighter because “most of the time, you’re not performing a rescue. You spend the bulk of your time waiting for the call. ” Raye opted to use her free time studying and earning a law degree. “It’s in my blood to learn and study, study and learn.” While she was working at the suicide hotline, Georgia State University opened a law school in walking distance from her job and she thought, “Ok, let me try this.” She recalls “grousing and complaining” in class over the technicalities of criminal procedure when the associate director of the Neighborhood Justice Center of Atlanta, a classmate, tapped her on the shoulder and told her “you need to be a mediator.” After talking more with him about mediation, and understanding how the goals differ from those of traditional law, she felt it was a calling, a detour that was meant to happen – and began taking classes in mediation.
“Mediation connected to my soul and spirit”
At the start of Raye’s law career, she practiced traditional law for a short time, served as an administrative law judge and arbitrated cases. However, “mediation had connected to my soul and spirit,” she says. No longer able to ignore the calling, Raye began volunteering at the Neighborhood Justice Center. “Since then, the practice of mediation has been central to my work,” she declares.
Now firmly focused on the path to mediation, Raye found that she was still relying on skills she had learned in seemingly unrelated past jobs, such as those she was trained to use on the suicide prevention hotline. To Raye, it made perfect sense. “The skills of communicating and connecting to people are fundamental to both suicide prevention and mediation; you must give people the sense that you care for them and that their lives are worthwhile.”
All of the cases that came forward to mediation were not of the “international peace treaty” type. In Raye’s first months of practicing mediation at the Neighborhood Justice Center, she mostly took cases that revolved around community disputes – “Cases like, ‘Your dog ate my petunias!’,” she recalls with laughter. But the work gradually became more complex, as she graduated into employment cases involving issues like diversity and discrimination, along with technical dilemmas like environmental and patent cases.
In mediating the more complex cases, Raye asserts that it is not so much the case that is difficult, but whether or not the people are prepared to move into a different space, one in which they are capable of listening to each other and negotiating. “The complexities of cases have never been as difficult as the people,” Raye says. “You just need to find good mediators to help people move.”
The institutionalization of mediation has resulted in significant changes over the years, most notably in the wide range of specializations that have developed. Still, Raye maintains that, in consulting a mediator, people seeking mediation services need to make sure that the mediator they choose is trained and skilled in conflict resolution and understands the role of the mediator and the roles of the participants in the mediation. Raye practices facilitative mediation – keeping the responsibility for creating the solution with the parties – because this is the type of mediation that is best suited to her style and experience. This is the type of mediation she believes results in a greater chance of reaching a sustainable solution.
The Path to MBBI
Raye came to know MBBI in 2020 through a close friend who was a member of the MBBI board. She was immediately drawn to the MBBI mission. After learning more about the organization, she had the opportunity to meet Prahba Sankaranarayan, the President and CEO, to discuss the dialogue approaches and process that she teaches. Raye was invited to lead a dialogue training for MBBI, teaching how to facilitate difficult conversations. “It was just one of the most meaningful professional experiences of my life,” she recalls. “I was teaching, but I was learning so much more!” In a room full of mediators from around the globe who were learning a new approach to dialogue, Raye felt “an immediate and significant connection, as well as a reassurance that, despite what’s going on in the world, there are people all over the world who help us and remind us that we’re all a part of this human family.”
Raye has taught classes in dialogue to mediators online. “Teaching online does have some great advantages,” she believes, “because the mediators are able to connect with people from many distant locations.” Raye ends with, “There is no shortage of conflict and confusion; you know there is always a need and a place to do the good work we’re doing.”
Article by Emily Shultis, MBBI Writer