Class of 2010
Penn State University Park
Penn State economics major Miatta Massaley was quick to recognize that legal rights are often worthless if you cannot afford a lawyer. For many years, hundreds of students in the Borough of State College could do very little when they were mistreated by their landlords. And many private landlords were similarly without means of redress when students failed to pay rent, or caused damage to their rental properties. Miatta soon realized that an alternative to expensive legal proceedings was desperately needed.
Working with three other members of the Legal Affairs division of the University Park Undergraduate Affairs, Miatta designed and procured funding for a pilot Landlord Tenant Mediation Center. To ensure that the center would meet the needs of those it was intended to serve, Miatta and her colleagues spent many hours in the summer months attending borough meetings, and listening to the complaints and perspectives of tenants and landlords alike. In January 2009, the ground-breaking mediation service opened its doors–and not just to Miatta’s fellow students. The program also offers a valuable means of redress for non-student tenants in the Borough of State College, and for landlords too.
The center Miatta helped build serves as a model for affordable and speedy resolution of landlord-tenant disputes that we hope will inspire other university communities. More broadly, it also demonstrates the power of mediation and, in these troubled times, the value of resolving our disputes amicably, where possible, and finding a way to move on.
The creation of the mediation center, a valuable achievement in itself, is not the only way in which Miatta will leave her mark at Penn State. She also lobbied successfully to retain the Undergraduate Association’s Diversity and Student Life Committee when its existence was threatened, and thereby ensured that the association continued to serve the interests of minority students. Having worked hard to save the committee, she then joined it and helped organize its first networking event for the leaders of student minority groups at University Park, and its first annual women’s symposium where fellow students could discuss eating disorders, body image and sexual harassment.
Miatta’s sensitivity to the unvoiced and neglected concerns of others, her courage to take a stand on their behalf, and her determination to follow through in the face of challenging obstacles and the many competing demands on a student’s time are an inspiration to us all. Her fortitude epitomizes the nature and value of ethical leadership.