By Kelly Pyzik
Today marks the beginning of a new endeavor to provide another avenue for dealing with complaints in the College community, as Chinyere Ukabiala takes on her position as the College’s first ombudsperson. Ukabiala will serve as an educator in communication and conflict management, as well as an impartial counselor whom community members can come to with any sort of issue.
“Ombud is Scandinavian for a proxy or representative.” Ukabiala said. “Many years ago, the Scandinavian people wanted someone who could speak on their behalf and bring concerns to the government. The job of the ombudsperson [at Grinnell] will be to assist and serve the community with issues of a confidential nature, or issues about which students are unsure of who to talk to, or are reluctant to talk to just anyone about. The ombudsperson will be a neutral and independent staff member who can help resolve issues or point students in the right direction.”
Ukabiala has experience as an attorney in civil law and private law practice, focusing especially on public interest law, mediation, and conflict resolution. She also has teaching experience with legal negotiations and family law, and holds certificates in negotiations and mediation.
“In the past 10 years, I’ve wanted to focus my career on conflict resolution. I felt my background gave me excellent skills for the position,” Ukabiala said. “I was attracted to Grinnell because I felt it had a very vibrant and active community that valued diversity and freedom of expression.”
Since the Office of the Ombudsperson begins with Ukabiala, all of the roles it will play on campus are not yet known.
“Starting the new ombuds office will be challenging, but rewarding,” Ukabiala said. “I hope we will be able to teach people to resolve conflict in a non-adversarial manner. The office will be a safe place where people can come voice their concerns.”
She believes that the ombuds office will provide important enlightenment to Grinnellians about all the different conflict management strategies open to them.
“Sometimes issues come up and people don’t know how to handle them,” she said. “A lot of times we’re not fully aware of all the different skills available to handle conflict. I hope I can educate the campus in conflict management strategies: preventing conflict before it actually starts or resolving an already present conflict in the best interest of the community.”