UTD’s Mediation team ranked No. 1 at the International Alternative Dispute Resolution tournament from Nov. 9 to Nov. 11, taking first place for the fourth consecutive year and the fifth time in the past nine years.
After winning at the IADR in Gainesville, GA, the three first-place champions, Michelle Elele, Sanjana Chandrasekar and Isabella Spartz now qualify for an international tournament at Loyola Law School on March 6. Mediation is typically court ordered by a judge to find a resolution before a case goes to trial, and this year, topics included the 100-day actor strike, conflicts between the winner and host of a fishing tournament and the mistreatment of a dog by a dog boarding company.
A second team including Edward Zhang, Juan Castro and Marquis Nickerson placed No. 8 for advocate/client, and Zhang and Nickerson won an individual fifth place award for advocate/client pair. This was an international tournament, with 22 teams participating from across the world. Spartz, a finance and economics senior, is currently in her first year of competing in mediation.
“It was really exciting because I think it was something we all weren’t expecting … I think it was one of those things [where we thought], ‘Oh, we knew we could do it,’ but there’s that small percentage in your head where you’re like, ‘I don’t know if I can,’” Spartz said.
At UTD, Mediation is offered as an extracurricular activity, where students role-play to negotiate a dispute between two clients. During each round, there are two mediators who resolve the issue, each from a different school, and two advocate-client pairs who act as the conflicting parties. Coach Tony Seagroves has been with the team for nine years; during his time, Mediation has placed first five times internationally. Key to the team’s strategy is ensuring that students stay in character and only act within their roles — for example, teams lose points if the client tries to mediate the round instead of the mediator.
“It’s to the point now where when we go to competitions, the other teams are afraid to go against us,” Seagroves said. “We’re the big gorilla in the room.”
Elele is a political science junior in her third year of competing in Mediation. She will be moving on to the Loyola Law School Competition in March, where the competition will be even tougher.
“[The contest is] all with law schools … and maybe two to three undergraduate schools are going to be there,” Elele said. “So [I’m] very nervous, but I’m also very excited too, because it’s going to be a learning experience.”
Edward Zhang, an economics senior, is in his third year of competing in Mediation. Zhang said mediators should be able to diffuse stressful situations, but the advocate and client should focus more on accurately portraying their characters.
“For the advocates … they need to have a really strong grasp of the logistical facts of the case,” Zhang said. “On the other hand, the client should know what’s important to them, and they should be a little bit more emotional.”
Before a competition, five fact lists are released. For this tournament, issues to mediate included a mass actors’ strike, a dispute over a fishing tournament prize, a family demanding reparations from a company for hurting their dog, two parents fighting against park privatization and two cousins disagreeing on their inheritance. During Spartz’s final round, her team mediated a dispute between a fictional actor’s union who went on a 100-day strike against film producers. They had to negotiate real-world issues like demands for equitable compensation and the dangers of AI in replicating actors’ images.
Elele said being on UTD’s team helped her narrow down her future goals to pursue mediation in law school. Even for those who will not go on to a position in mediation, the program helps students develop skills in negotiation, conflict resolution and public speaking.
“The spirit of mediation [is] cooperation rather than conflict … that’s a very useful skill to have, no matter where you want to work in the future,” Zhang said.
Students are chosen for competition through seniority and demonstrated interest in the program. Interested students should reach out to Coach Seagroves and attend the yearly Mediation orientation.
“If you’re able to do that, you’re able to do anything else you want,” Spartz said.