Professor Turns Personal Tragedy into Program for Mercy Students

This Women's History Month, Mercy College celebrates its women students, alumni, faculty and staff for their extraordinary contributions to history, culture and society.

For 22 years, Mercy College has offered students in the social sciences the opportunity to be certified as a dispute resolution mediator. The 15-credit course is offered during the winter term at the College’s Bronx Campus and takes place over two weekends of rigorous work, under the passionate guidance of Dr. Dorothy Balancio '68, professor of sociology at Mercy.

For students, it is a way to gain useful, practical skills which provide immediate entrance into the field of conflict mediation. For Balancio, it is a mission: to make the world a less violent place by filling it with people committed to a more peaceful world, filled with less conflict.

“I’m a homicide survivor,” explains Balancio. “My son was killed in a hate crime at a bar. He was stabbed 13 times in the back. There were 70 people around and nobody helped him. I didn’t know what to do, and life didn’t make sense to me. Eventually I realized there were strategies for conflict that I didn’t teach him. I tell my mediation students, these are the things I didn’t teach my son, but when you finish you’re going to have them.  That’s the purpose of my life.”

As part of the course, students are given scenarios which might otherwise go to court and assigned roles to resolve them without the fight. Some students act as mediators, while others act as parties to the dispute. The program equips them with knowledge in various areas of conflict management, including negotiation, mediation and diplomacy.

“I’m watching them give their opinions, and feeling confident in expressing their opinions, and then watching others respect them,” says Balancio. “Letting go of position and roles. That’s how a mediator is supposed to be.”

Mercy staff members and attorneys from the community are also in the mix of those undergoing mediation training. Balancio believes there are competencies to benefit everyone.

During an “ending circle,” everyone shares reflections about the experience. “The most important thing I’ve learned today is how to listen. It’s important to listen and let other people get their feelings out. We all need each other to exist peacefully in this life,” said Mercy College student Kertray Mangual ’24.

Student Emmy Alba ’24 gained valuable insight during Balancio’s course. “Learning about myself, how to treat others, how to listen, figuring out why I allowed myself to go down path of violence, not leaving soon enough. I’m still learning and I’m so appreciative,” she said.

Balancio concludes the course feeling grateful for the skills they have acquired, and confident they will use them throughout their lives.

“They’re going to end up being mediators no matter what," she said. "You may be mediating between your siblings. Or with elderly parents. So they might not be mediating officially as a professional – which I think now they do feel comfortable after the training they can put up their shingles – but all of us are going to be mediating in our personal lives. They’re going to use these skills.”

To learn more about Professor Balancio's story and her conflict mediation certification course, watch this video