By Megan Palumbo, Chris Bretti & Michael Salem – Co-Editor-in-Chief & 1851 staff
There is an alternative approach for responding to campus-based sexual and gender-based harassment and violence.
According to the Campus Promoting Restorative Initiatives on Sexual Misconduct Project briefing paper, restorative justice (RJ) on college campuses is a non adversarial approach to addressing offensive behavior that seeks to identify and repair harm and rebuild trust through facilitated dialogue.
This meant the ones causing harm could see the impact of their behaviors. Rather than immediately be punished, they could learn a lesson.
Professor Karin Raye was introduced to RJ by her colleagues who published a PRISM Project in 2017.
There are three tiers of intervention: changes to individuals, subcommunity attitudes and beliefs, and campus climate. “Tier one is about climate and about discussing issues that are hard on campus,” Raye said. “When you’re sitting in a circle there’s no power. No one higher than the other. It builds it in a way that I haven’t seen other mechanisms do.”
Typically with sexual misconduct, colleges take a retributive approach for delivering maximum accountability, but it doesn’t stop recidivism. Rehabilitative approaches are supportive, but fail to express moral disapproval of the offending behavior. Restorative justice is based on high support and accountability, allowing those who caused harm to take accountability for their actions and demonstrate responsible behavior. However, a primary value for RJ is voluntary participation, especially for harmed parties.
“Most survivors will say to me ‘I don’t want my perpetrator to get kicked out, or his life or her life to be over. I just want them to know what they did was wrong and that this is why, and this is what they did to me,’” said Raye. “The conduct system works for some things certainly, but it doesn’t change behavior. That’s what I’m most invested in.”
Raye wrote and received a grant to attend a three-day Restorative Justice Conference at Skidmore College Nov. 10-12. She was able to take two students with her; senior Rebecca Van Spall-Hood and senior Title IX intern Austin Shindoll to learn more about RJ trainings and how it can be used on campus. “If we’re talking about the conduct system that is set up for students, they should be the ones that have some influence on how it operates,” said Raye.
There were only four students in attendance, including two attending Lasell. “I had people come up to me and say ‘I am so glad you brought them’”, said Raye. “It just added a whole different dimension.”
It is not every day a student gets an opportunity to attend these restorative justice trainings. “Both working with [Raye] and restorative justice itself peaked my interest. I took her class, fell in love with the course load, the way that she teaches it. I think that the beauty of her classes is that she teaches in a restorative justice way,” Van Spall-Hood said.
Advocating to have restorative justice on campus is significant for Van Spall-Hood because she wants to implement it beyond Title IX. “Personally, If I am to work with Lasell campus in an RJ way, I would love to implement it in clubs with SGA, with faculty, staff, language, and facilitating dialogue between them, it would make everyone happier. I can almost promise it,” she said.
One of the biggest challenges, according to Van Spall-Hood, is being able to get people, especially administration on board with restorative justice. She explains it is like having to reinvent the wheel and having to change the way people view these issues in a way that they can understand a better solution that helps both parties.
“People really just want to talk to each other, especially in the political and socio-economic environment that we are in now. Everybody wants to just talk about how their feeling and be raw in those moments. So, restorative justice is just that. It’s just talking and facilitating good dialogue,” Van Spall-Hood said.
Shindoll reports positive responses from the student population. While RJ strategies are working to be implemented in discussions with teams, Title IX awareness talks have begun on campus. As the Title IX intern, Shindoll has been working closely with Director of Legal Affairs/Title IX Coordinator Jennifer O’Keefe and Professor Raye to facilitate on-campus events such as Take Back the Night and the Clothesline Project. “An RA actually reached out to Raye and wanted her to teach the circle exercise to her whole building…talking about consent and safe sex,” Shindoll said.
At the conference, the group learned about circle-based discussions and how they’re grounded in Native American cultures. They completed mini circle exercises, sharing an incident where they did harm. “I saw pretty clearly, even just the relationships we created around the table of how it made you really think about who you are as a person and the kind of person you want to be,” Raye said. “It forced me to self-reflect and own my behavior in a way that I hadn’t really owned [in two years].”
The circle’s intent is to create unity amongst the members by looking at one another, gauging reactions and reading body language, rather than standing side by side facing a wall.
Another exercise from the conference involved bringing the survivor and the perpetrator together, coincidentally called the conference method. “It’s a bit tricky to have them in the same room. It’s up to both sides, but if both are willing then it’s more about healing than punishment,” said Shindoll. “Repercussions are still in place like a fine or probation but it won’t be as severe. Through mediation, the perpetrator sees face-to-face what they’ve done to the survivor.”
Shindoll continued to explain each method should fit the situation and environment. “The circle exercise is for smaller issues and it can be specific, we did one on the #MeToo Movement. The conference strategy is for more serious issues on campus such as Title IX or discrimination where law enforcement may not have to be involved,” he said.
“I think for survivors it’s really important too, because so many survivors that talk to me talk about not wanting to disrupt someone’s life and they don’t report because it’s too big. Whereas, if we could say to them ‘well there’s this alternative that is you can sit in a room with someone if you feel safe enough with people there who can you can have a conversation and explain to them what harm was done.’”
Raye’s goal is to meet with the team she’s named and present to administration what they learned from the conference, and how they think RJ can be utilized on campus.