Nancy Ferrell

Former CRS Mediator, Dallas Office; Private Mediator and Trainer

[Full Interview]

A: The situation in the small community where the Iranian students were coming into the community college and they were really being discriminated against by the community, is an example. The incident occurred because some high school students had been driving along and used a baseball bat on an Iranian student as he was walking. That was the triggering incident that got our attention and brought us into it. I went to the police department and it was a "boys will be boys kind of thing. I went to the school board, and the principal, and it was, "Well, they're dating some of the girls, and the boys were mad, and that's what happens in small towns. I wasn't getting any empathy. They wouldn't generate any understanding from the Iranian students perspective at all. I talked with the community college about their guardian responsibility to these students. There really wasn't any strong support there because they saw their funding and support coming from the community at large, which was an Anglo-white farming community. I was just pretty much saying to myself, "This is going to have to take some legal action or the students are going to have to do something in terms of protecting themselves from the legal perspective. The community's not open and they're not going to listen to the interests of these Iranian students.

I started thinking about that small rural community and they would have 200 Iranian students come in there. It had become a place they would come for two years to get their English up to a level where they could be admitted to the University of Tulsa, in the Petroleum and Engineering school. So it was a pipeline for that community college. I thought about how much money had to be coming into that community because of those students and what impact would this have on the community if those two hundred students a year went away? The network that got them there could certainly stop them and pretty quickly cut that off. And if they kept treating them as badly as they were, and there was physical danger, they'd leave. So I decided to go to the chamber of commerce and talk to them about, "What is the impact on this community economically, about having these students, and what's gonna be the impact if the student's are gone?" And so they got involved, and of course, that meant the business leadership got involved and things began to change then. We began to see some empathy and some understanding that we need to do something different. But, again, I appealed to their self-interest. I think in most instances, that's where you have to start with people and try to figure out what is in it for them. What's it gonna cost them if this continues, and if I point that out, then they're more likely to listen.

In another situation, there were some educational issues for migrant workers. And I learned through just talking with some people, listening to people, that the grain operator was really the power broker in the community. And I had never sat down and talked with him directly, so I made an appointment, went in and spent a couple of hours just talking to him about what we were doing and what our interests were, and what would happen in the community in the long term if these kids don't ever get an education. It was almost just honoring him by the appointment. He opened the doors, and things started moving then. So, that's part of the dance. If you go in and you're not ready to move wherever the thing's going, then you're gonna miss something good.

Q: Now he didn't feel threatened by you?

A: No. He didn't project that. He probably felt he was finally honored.

Q: And he wasn't being personally accused?

A: No. But everyone knew that as soon as he said to the school board, "Let's go for it," it would happen. As a mediator, you could go in there and try to strong-arm, but we didn't have any strong-arm to go with, except if this is not resolved, then the agencies who do enforce may come in. But it was persuasion and working from a perspective of good will, and to appeal to people's higher being. And 90% of the time, people will respond to that. And that's what this man did. He made a call to the president of the school board and all of a sudden the school board president was open to some ideas. And he hadn't been. I'm not sure that he had talked to that operator. He just historically thought he knew what he wanted, and he wasn't going to violate that. That's the nuance and that's the dance. It s following those trails and seeing where they go. It s finding out who the power structures are and where the doors get opened, and then appealing to their higher being. And most of them will respond to that. Anybody who's self-interest is greed or power, is not going to respond. And that's when you have to know to hand it over to whoever the law enforcement people are and let go of it. But most often, when you give people an opportunity, they'll respond.