Champlain College Opens Center for Mediation & Dialogue

Center for Mediation & Dialogue to provide mediation, facilitation, and multi-stakeholder consensus-building services and education.

From toxic clashes between individuals to global disputes over borders, one glance at today’s headlines will make you think the world is full of intractable conflict. Mediation—the process of bringing people together to listen to one another and work toward common goals—offers a pathway through these divides.

Champlain College just opened The Center for Mediation & Dialogue to provide mediation, facilitation, and multi-stakeholder consensus-building services and education for Champlain College, the greater Burlington community, the state of Vermont, and beyond. Julian Portilla, a renowned mediation expert and the Center’s Director, sees it as a place to convene civil conversations on tough, divisive issues facing the state: How can we eliminate homelessness? How do we ensure that some parts of Vermont aren’t left behind as others thrive? What will be our energy mix in the years to come, and how do we ensure a sustainable future? These are just some of the complex topics Portilla would like to approach through meaningful deliberation. “Champlain is known as a place of innovation and positive change, and it provides an amazing platform on which to engage citizens on these critical issues,” says Portilla.

The Center for Mediation & Dialogue is the latest Center of Experience to open at Champlain College. Others include the Senator Leahy Center for Digital Forensics & Cybersecurity, the Center for Publishing, and the Emergent Media Center. All of the Centers embody the College’s radically pragmatic approach to education. They provide students with the opportunity to gain first-hand experience working on client projects alongside seasoned professionals.

Julian Portilla, Director of The Center for Mediation & Dialogue.

A native of Mexico City, Portilla’s academic and occupational focus involves the design and implementation of community, environmental, and political consensus-building processes, primarily in Latin America and the United States. He has worked as an organizational consultant for the United Nations, and maintains an active mediation practice in Vermont. His recent projects include mediating a national fisheries dispute in Mexico, a regional conflict over farmers displaced by an industrial plant in Haiti, and a long-simmering falling-out between dairy farmers and camp owners closer to home in northern Vermont. The Center’s team also includes Susanne Terry, David Specht, Neal Rodar, and Jared Ordway—all highly respected mediation consultants.

Julian Portilla mediates a dispute between farmers displaced by an industrial plant built by the Haitian government after the 2010 earthquake.

“The Center for Mediation & Dialogue provides courses and workshops for people in the community seeking to build mediation and consensus-building skills,” says Dr. Laurel Bongiorno, Dean of the Division of Education and Human Studies. Whether people would like to expand their skills and capacity in their current jobs, or are looking to become professional mediators—including divorce and family mediators, conflict management practitioners, and consultants—the program teaches everyone how to listen reflectively, remain impartial, collaborate, negotiate more effectively, and solve complex problems. Champlain is known for its industry-expert faculty, and the instructors in this program are no different. “The faculty have years and years of experience on the ground,” says Portilla. “They are a unique blend of doers and teachers.”

The faculty have years and years of experience on the ground. They are a unique blend of doers and teachers.

Julian Portilla

“The Mediation workshops at Champlain were undoubtedly the most fascinating courses I have ever taken,” says Tammy Parker, a Vocational Rehabilitation Services Specialist in Vermont. “The instructors are highly skilled, experienced, and gifted, and I am grateful to be able to learn the art of mediation under their instruction. Whether or not one intends to be a mediator, the lessons learned in these workshops are applicable to every aspect of life.”

“Mediation and dialogue can save people a lot of time and grief,” says Julian Portilla. “If we’re doing it correctly, we’re asking the right questions sooner.”

“At Champlain, we prepare learners of all ages to collaborate and make a difference across professions and communities everywhere,” says Interim President Dr. Laurie Quinn. “We are proud to launch The Center for Mediation & Dialogue to help further our positive impact, and we look forward to helping more people gain the consensus-building skills they need to lead change on important issues.” 

Anyone interested in learning more about The Center for Mediation & Dialogue, including the Center’s workshops and educational and consulting services, should contact Julian Portilla at jportilla@champlain.edu.

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