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How Conflict Support Services helps Boise State students

Andy Giacomazzi, Ashley Nichols, President Marlene Tromp and Kristin Olson

When Boise State students face conflicts with their friends, roommates, classmates or other peers, how do they resolve them? What resources exist on campus to address the complex issues that arise in living and working with other people? Conflict Support Services is a program that teaches and engages students in healthy conflict management strategies, and this year the founders, Kristin Olson, Ashley Nichols and Andy Giacomazzi, were recognized with the 2024 President’s Innovation award. 

In 2019, Boise State’s Housing and Residence Life director approached Kristin Olson, Assistant Director of Academic Initiatives, with a problem – students at Boise State were reporting very low for conflict resolution skills on the Housing and Residence Life annual survey. Olson, with 8 prior years of experience as the University of Denver’s Director of Student Conduct, began hatching a plan to address this issue. She spoke with School of Public Service Senior Associate Dean Andy Giacomazzi, who connected her with SPS professor and Director of the Conflict Management Certificate Program Ashley Nichols. From this partnership was born the Conflict Management Resource Center, now known as Conflict Support Services. 

Conflict Support Services is nearly entirely run by a team of students called the Peer Mediators (PMs). These students come into the role with some prior experience in conflict management and are able to apply their knowledge, as well as skills learned in their summer training, to assist other students on campus.

Olson shared an overview of the services offered through CSS: “We offer mediation, conflict coaching, facilitated conversations, we can help with student groups, we can come in and do team norms conversations…we do initial roommate agreements, and then we also help to update roommate agreements.” 

The PMs also assist with creating and facilitating conflict management training for a number of on campus groups, including student leaders (RAs) in Housing and Residence life, professional staff members and, more recently, off-campus groups such as camp counselors. 

“The Peer Mediator role has allowed me to grow in both my personal and professional life,” said Corinne Smearden, “I have learned so much about how I can better handle conflict in my own life and healthy ways to approach it. I can better assist those in my life with navigating their conflicts and feel confident in my ability to do so.”

Peer Mediators and Kristin Olson at the SPS Research and Experiential Learning Showcase, March 2024

Conflict Support Services is growing and looking for new ways to connect with students on and off campus. Recently, they opened up the opportunity for PMs like Corinne to advance to a Peer Mediator Mentor role where they assist and train new PMs. 

Since its birth, Conflict Support Services has grown quickly, and the team looks forward to serving a greater student population year after year.

“It started as a pilot, we weren’t sure if students would use us,” Olson said, “it went from helping 35 students that first year to 307 students that we worked with this year.”

Olson shared that the survey results in response to this program have been overwhelmingly positive. “What we’re seeing on the survey is that they felt listened to, they felt heard, they feel as though they have a place to go to.” Read more about Conflict Support Services, the Peer Mediator program and more on the Conflict Support Services website.