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The Bernal Story

Mediating Class and Race in a Multicultural Community

by Beth Roy

Publication Year: 2014

For eight years, the San Francisco neighborhood of Bernal Heights was mired in controversy. Traditionally a working-class neighborhood known for political activism and attention to community concern, Bernal house a diverse population of Latino, Filipino, and European heritage. The branch library, beloved in the community, was being renovated, raising the issue of whether to restore or paint over a thirty-year-old mural on its exyerior wall. To some of the residents the artwork represented their culture and their entitlement to live on the hill. To others, the mural blighted a beautiful building. To resolve this seemingly intractable conflict, area officials convened a mediation led by Roy, an experienced mediator and Bernal resident. The group, which reflected the wide range of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds in the community, ultimately came to a strong consensus, resulting in the reinterpretation of the artwork to reflect changing times and to honor the full population of the neighborhood. The Bernal Story recounts in detail how the process was designed, who took part, how the group of twelve community representatives came to a consensus, and how that agreement was carried into the larger community and implemented. Roy’s firsthand account offers an essential tool for training community leaders and professional mediators, a valuable case history for use in sociology and conflict resolution courses, and a compelling narrative.

Published by: Syracuse University Press

Title Page, Series Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv

A Note of Confidentiality

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p. v-v

About the Author

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p. vi-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

AS WE HAVE COME TO EXPECT from Beth Roy, The Bernal Story is a gift to the practice of mediation and the wider domain of peacebuilding. I say as we have come to expect from Beth because her work represents a rarity within our literature. She combines the best practices of astute ethnography with the best scholarship arising from experienced and lived practice....

Part One: The Store of a Well-Fought Conflict

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1. The Context: Exploring the Terrain

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pp. 3-18

SAN FR ANCISCO is a city of hills and water, of culture and political activism, of charm and innovation—and of conflict. Early in the twenty-first century, all those elements combined in one lovely neighborhood called Bernal Heights. The city’s branch public libraries were slated for renovation, a generous and welcome thing that nonetheless had generated heated controversy in Bernal. On the walls of the...

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2. The Setup: Composition and Design

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pp. 19-31

I BEGAN by contacting the people on Supervisor Campos and Director Smooke’s short list. The first to respond was a librarian working at our branch. She offered me a tour, even though renovation was still in progress. As we walked through the building, her excitement mounted each time I praised what I saw. The building was wonderful. Wooden tables had been restored to their original grandeur. The...

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3. The Beginning: Goals, Roles, and Power Relations

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pp. 32-39

ON THE MORNING of January 23, 2010, we gathered in the brandnew community meeting room at the library. A long table had been set up for us. Larry brought over some flip charts and easels from the neighborhood center across the street. Another table was filled with breakfast foods, coffee, and tea. Some of the arriving participants greeted acquaintances; several knew no one in the room and introduced...

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4. Storytelling: Emotion and Meaning

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pp. 40-51

NOW WE WERE READY to begin in earnest. We asked people to introduce themselves and say what their primary reasons were for taking part. What were the goals they hoped the mediation would achieve? Answers fell into three categories: to heal emotional wounds, to understand better the history and meanings involved, and to resolve the question in order to move on to a “bright new look” for the library. Occasionally, goals people bring to mediation are mutually exclusive;...

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5. Analysis: Getting to the Heart of the Matter

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pp. 52-64

EARLY THE NEXT MORNING, Darcy emailed me an anxious message. I called her, preferring voice to screen. Email is too flat a medium for conducting emotional conversation with any nuance. Darcy freely ran out her feelings: she felt guilty she hadn’t represented people well, hadn’t spoken powerfully enough about the “clean walls” position. In one week, 250 people had signed a petition in her store to remove the...

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6. Negotiation: Swings and Crunches

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pp. 65-74

ONCE AGAIN, the time between meetings was productive. This time, I organized it. At the first meeting, I had grouped people with like positions. Now I proposed that small groups of people with conflicting positions get together to brainstorm alternative possibilities. I formed three groups of four, challenging people to work together with individuals from whom they were most distant. Their assignment...

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7. Documents and Disturbances: Negotiating in the Real World

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pp. 75-82

IT TOOK TEN DAYS to reach consensus on a meeting time. I interpreted the difficulty of that process as a warning sign of impending burn-out. People were feeling, I thought, both tired and anxious. Although the group had already exceeded my expectations for the mediation by striving for a negotiated settlement, I sensed that few if any of them actually saw a way that might come to pass....

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8. Consensus!… and Disruption

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pp. 83-95

NOW BEGAN an arduous process of negotiation and word-smithing. Tempers flared and calmed like the San Francisco weather. Daily, pressure to be finished swelled. Voices in the community reached us in a punctuated rhythm: What’s happening? Why the delay? What can we expect? On the political front, rumors amassed that our very supportive mayor might run for governor or other state office. He might soon...

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9. Aftermath: Into the Community, Onto the Walls

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pp. 96-100

NOW THE WORK moved out into the community. Two days after the final meeting, Mauricio posted a notice on his Facebook page:

This past Sunday, the mediation group met for the 6th session and another 3.5 hours of mediation. We have totaled about 17 hours of meeting time. So after 7 months of mural campaigning and...

Part Two: Theorizing the Good Fight

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10. Turning Points

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pp. 103-112

HOW DOES CHANGE come about? What are the dynamics operating at those key moments when minds and hearts shift? I want to look more closely at five of those moments during the mediation that seemed to me to be pivotal....

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11. Dynamics of Mediating Identity-Based Conflict

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pp. 113-118

THE NARRATIVE of the Bernal mediation is descriptive on the level of interaction. As people spoke honestly and emotionally about their lives, other people’s understanding grew, and with understanding came compassion. These moments of change were embedded in structures, however, that continued to exist. I think of “structures” as frameworks that reside both externally in the real world outside the...

Part Three: Oragmatics and Reflections

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12. Summarizing the Model

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pp. 121-148

IT IS NOT ACCIDENTAL that my story of the Bernal mediation ends with a celebration of positive changes in personal relationships. The work I do arose from a particular blending of community and individual transformation. Called radical psychiatry or radical therapy, its premise is to place individual behaviors and feelings in a social context (Roy 2007; Steiner 1981). In this chapter, I outline the approach I...

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13. Conclusions and Recommendations

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pp. 149-162

CONFLICT INTERVENTION as a profession has a very short history. Conflict itself, of course, is as old as human memory stretches. Traditions of intervention existed long before the days when money changed hands for the service. Grandmothers, clergy, wise and friendly neighbors were regularly called upon to help people come to terms in the midst of disputes....

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pp. 163-168

HOW DO WE ASSESS the consequences of an intervention like the Bernal one? Formal means for evaluation are hard to come by. What constitutes success? Is it a continuing absence of conflict? Or is it more that future conflict is productive, creating change rather than harm? In a world as complex as ours, one person’s progress may be another’s injury, so even concepts of progress and injury are complicated....

Cast of Chatacters

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pp. 169-170

Methods and Tools

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pp. 171-176


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pp. 177-178

Appendix A

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pp. 179-180

Appendix B

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pp. 181-182

Appendix C

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pp. 183-184

Appendix D

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pp. 185-186

Appendix E

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pp. 187-190

Works Cited

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pp. 191-192


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pp. 193-200

About the Author, Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780815652762
E-ISBN-10: 0815652763
Print-ISBN-13: 9780815633464
Print-ISBN-10: 0815633467

Page Count: 200
Illustrations: 2 black and white illustrations
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Bernal Heights (San Francisco, Calif.).
  • Community development -- California -- San Francisco.
  • Community life -- California -- San Francisco.
  • Intergroup relations -- California -- San Francisco.
  • Culture conflict -- California -- San Francisco.
  • Conflict management -- California -- San Francisco.
  • Bernal Heights (San Francisco, Calif.) -- Ethnic relations.
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