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Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Tet Kale T-Shirt mediation by Mediator “Nitz”

Tet Kale t-shirts. Tet Kale hats, wristbands, bandanas. High in demand and low in supply, the Fordham Law students argued like 5 year olds over who got to keep the 1 “Tet Kale” campaign t-shirt of Presidential candidate Mickey Martelly that we scored from his Dominican Republic supporters. Yes, it may seem ridiculous but we saw the Haitians sport these t-shirts since we arrived and we were told we could only get the “Bald Head” campaign slogan shirt if we knew a campaign insider.

So what was the only fair way to decide who got it? Domino’s of course. The Haitians are legendary “Do’s” players and it only seemed logical. As we waited during our layover at the Santo Domingo airport lounge each armed with a Presidente (Dominican beer), Nitz decided it was time for one of her wise and subtle lessons. She gathered information from the students about what this t-shirt personally represented to each of them and why they wanted to keep it. Dean Escalera ingeniously turned this childish dilemma into a practical and hands-on legal learning experience on mediation skills and techniques. Only half way through her intervention did we realize her intent and the steps she took to conduct an amicable mediation with help from a student who played co-mediator.

It turns out that the terms we agreed on were simple. One student who felt strongly about having the authentic and original t-shirt will make copies of the t-shirt in NY and distribute them to the others who don’t mind if the t-shirt is a copy since they instead want to use it for display and sentimental purposes focused on the meaning rather than authenticity. The agreement includes the condition that certain students research where and how much replicas can be produced (with a price ceiling agreed upon). Deadlines were set and if the conditions are not met on our own the mediator will get involved by a certain date.

Dean Escalera taught us that in mediations it is important to gather information from all sides and hear each side’s story before commencing the mediation. She taught us to identify the common interests that both sides share, the opposing interests of each side, and the non-opposing but non-mutual interests. With this knowledge, the mediator guides the parties to compromise on the directly opposing interests while identifying the interests that each party can retain without losing the ultimate individual goal. This mediation experience showed me that often times opposing parties have more interests in common or not in opposition than originally manifested and the parties are closer to reaching an agreement than it may appear.

Speaking for the Cholera team who worked with Dean Escalera on our project, I think we learned as much from her as we did from the Haitians this week. Not only was she able to provide us with wisdom, experience, and life lessons, but she was able to subtly and nonchalantly direct us in the right direction when we needed it during interviews or de-briefings. She provided the perfect balance as a supervisor; she allowed us to have complete independence and responsibility for our Cholera project but gave us positive and constructive advice to enhance this learning experience not only for our work in Haiti but for our future legal careers.

While we are all leaving this trip with a new and cultivated appreciation of an array of Haitian legal, political, and social issues, Dean Escalera intertwined legal lessons in mediating, interviewing, negotiating, presenting, writing, collaborating, and Haitian Constitutional law as she never failed to bring the Haitian Constitution with us to the interviews and group meetings.

Ironically, during our last meal together we spoke about first impressions. Although last year as a 1L I did not know Dean Escalera or other Fordham Deans well, I admit that I was skeptical about having one of them come with us to Haiti last year to sleep in a tent for a week without a reliable shower, toilet, or source of water.

But from her insistence on calling her “Nitz” instead of Dean Nitza Escalera or even Nitza to her week long experience in a tent in Haiti a month after the January 2010 Earthquake to her complete domination in “Do’s” to her relaxed attitude towards HST (Haitian Standard Time) and reckless Haitian driving and finally to her enthusiasm in always joining us for a necessary morning coffee or evening Presidente beer, I think I speak for all Fordham DRN members and DRN alumni when I say we couldn’t have done this without you Nitz and we are grateful for the integral and irreplaceable role that you play on our trips.

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