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A spirit that is not afraid

Ombudsman shares how his role can help students

Auburn University has numerous offices and organizations ready and willing to help students with everything from interviews to papers. However, not many students are aware that there is a place they can go for a problem that almost everyone has to face: conflict.

“[Auburn] is a great diverse organization, we have people from all walks of life, all sorts of different personalities, different goals, and people don’t always see eye to eye,” said Auburn’s Ombudsman C. Kevin Coonrod.

Coonrod said his title of ombudsman is not the most explanatory title, and therefore students are often confused on how he can help them.

“I’m here to help people work together well,” Coonrod said.

Coonrod explained he often meets with students and faculty to offer advice on how to handle difficult situations.

“I’m not there to tell them if they’re doing things wrong or right, I’m here to help them think things through and figure out how to do things,” Coonrod said. “I’m not a counselor, but I will do a lot of things that a counselor does because I will listen. I am an excellent sounding board. I can empathize very well with people who are going through a problem.”

Coonrod not only works with people individually but as a licensed mediator, he often helps conflicting parties come to an agreement.

“In mediation, you try to get people to come together and understand each other and gain respect for the perspectives that they have,” Coonrod said. “From there, you can start talking about some creative ways to resolve whatever the issue is. That’s what I love about mediation — it’s up to them to get creative, but I’m there to help them get started.”

Coonrod said that everything said by clients stays confidential if it is not deemed threatening to the safety of others, and even though he works for the University, he will not inform administrators of violations a student may have committed unless they give him permission to do so.

“I’m here without any authority to tell people what to do, so I don’t have a dog in the fight,” Coonrod said. “I’m an objective third party, and so here is just this resource without any agenda. This is a place where people can come and express themselves freely.”

Coonrod said students are often intimidated about meeting a stranger in a suit about serious matters, and he said he tries to help them overcome this fear by getting to know them personally.

“I can help them with anything they have that’s going on,” Coonrod said. “I’ve mediated roommates that aren’t getting along well, I have helped students prepare to have a very difficult conversation with their parents, I have worked with professors and students that aren’t seeing eye to eye.”

Coonrod said that he has worked with students who have academic dishonesty cases, and while he cannot represent or speak for them during such cases, Coonrod said he can offer students advice on how to handle their case.

“Be respectful, gather all of the facts, prepare them in a cohesive succinct manner that is not threatening yet will appeal to the intelligence of the person that they are speaking to,” Coonrod said. “Go there with a willingness to listen because you might learn something. A lot of time there are disagreements, there’s confusion, there’s misunderstandings, and if you can clear those things up, sometimes the conflicts can end up evaporating.”

Coonrod said there are simple steps that anyone can take in resolving a disagreement with someone else such as a roommate.

“Take a deep breath and listen, really try to understand the person and see if you can see from their perspective why they are angry,” Coonrod said. “Maybe they’ve got a point that you’re not seeing.”

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