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The Scarlet & Black

Ombuds provides mediation, confidential advice

Chinyere Ukabiala, ombudsperson at Grinnell, is a confidential resource. Photo by Scott Lew.

By Hyeyun Jung

Chinyere Ukabiala has been the Grinnell College ombudsperson since February 2013. Before she came to Grinnell, she practiced law in Des Moines and taught at Drake University Law School. She is the first ombudsperson in Grinnell’s history.

“Even though ombuds has existed on college campuses for over 50 years, they are relatively unknown, and not every institution has an ombuds program. So, I think we are really fortunate to have one at Grinnell College,” said Ukabiala.

According to Ukabiala, if any person from the College community comes to her office for any reason or concern, the conversation will be private and cannot be shared including without the express permission of that person. 

Although the Ombuds office offers options and solutions for any issue or conflict, including mediation of difficult discussions, Ukabiala does not advocate for any side. “The Ombuds is a neutral third side,” she said. Ombuds is an informal service that does not perform formal processes such as filing reports. The program is supplemental to the College, but it is independent of any office, department or person on campus.

Students might come to the Ombuds office to address a variety of concerns, including interpersonal conflicts, miscommunication, problems in student groups such as organizations or friend groups, grade appeals or other issues that might affect students’ academic life on campus.

“It’s just a whole range of issues, pretty much anything that impacts your ability to function productively,” said Ukabiala. “I think my favorite part of the job is that it’s never boring. There is always something different happening, and I get to meet many people … I am involved in so many different things,” said Ukabiala. “So, what might be challenging in the job, perhaps, is the fact that the Ombuds office has to be a trusted resource. It has to be a place where everybody feels comfortable to come and whatever concerns they have. And neutrality is something critical for ombudsperson, to maintain neutrality,” said Ukabiala.

Ukabiala wants to work towards creating more understanding relationships within the College community. “A big goal for me this coming year is to introduce restorative practices and processes on campus,” she said. “The principle of restorative justice is basically, work with communities to think about how you live in the community to one another in a way in which conflicts can be resolved in ways that are not harmful,” she said. “Conflict is an opportunity for growth, and if you view the issues that come up as the ways in which we can learn from one another, and ways which we can respectfully to listen to one another even if we don’t agree on things, we can still be a good, kind community.”

More information about the Grinnell Ombuds office can be found on the College website and in the Ombuds brochure, available on the third floor of the JRC.

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