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The Restorative Justice system now includes a brief application used to determine whether students will be accepted into this step of formal discipline.
The application generally asks students to describe the reported behavior, how it might have violated the Principia Community Commitment and why their case should proceed to Restorative Justice. The answers to these questions would be submitted within 24 hours following an initial interview with Residence Director Josh Sprague and Louise Kingsbery, who is assisting with discipline in place of Joy Booth this semester.
An email sent out to the Principia community on Thursday, September 22 described the thought behind the recent change: “In an effort to fulfill the learning opportunity that occurs when a case of student discipline comes forward, we are adopting a process that will enable a student to invest more thought in character unfoldment before the case is accepted for Restorative Justice.”
To review, Restorative Justice is one route through which students can go through formal discipline. If a student has acted in violation of the Community Commitment or the Blue Pages, another student or community member who is aware of this behavior can choose to report it to OSL. A student only has one opportunity to go through Restorative Justice before discipline is handled differently.
Under the old system, both the party brought forward for discipline and the party bringing the action forward agreed to talk through the issue in order to determine an appropriate consequence. At that point the case would automatically proceed to Restorative Justice. This new system still requires cooperation between both parties, but those who administer formal discipline – Sprague and Kingsbery – have the option of accepting or denying a case based on the written responses received after that first interview.
Once a case has been approved for Restorative Justice, a small number of community members affected by the reported action are asked to come together to discuss the implications of a decision and steps for moving forward. According to Kingsbery, “[The] whole idea is to come together as a group and say ‘We love you, we cherish you; this is how you’ve affected us’” in the hopes that such a conversation could turn a negative behavior around entirely.
Although the “new system” has yet to be tested, it seems as though the added step doesn’t do much to change the purpose or meaning of Restorative Justice. Said Sprague: “This doesn’t feel like a huge change to me, it feels more like a refinement of what we’re already doing.”
The email also reminded community members of a decision made last year that would exclude from Restorative Justice any case including illegal activity or law enforcement involvement.
The changes might be simple, but those involved in administering Restorative Justice hope these questions will help students better reflect on the decisions they’ve made and encourage them to refrain from similar behavior in the future. This additional step may deter students from thinking of Restorative Justice as a kind of “get-out-of-jail-free” card given out before a student is placed in front of Community Board.
In addressing the concern that students may take for granted the opportunity to go through Restorative Justice, Sprague said: “We don’t want there to be that assumption on the part of the student who’s in that position. We want there to be more thought put into it.”
According to Sprague, resident counselors and OSL staff collaborated to create the list of five questions previewed in the Sept. 22 email. He added that a number of ideas went into developing the final questions.
Like Sprague and Kingsbery, Dean of Students Dorsie Glen understands the value of asking a student to think through his or her decision-making as a step toward progress. “I think it’s so important that the purpose of RJ – that sense of healing and reconciliation to the community – I think it has to start with some deep thinking on the part of the student who’s broken the Community Commitment.”
Regardless of how significant this change may be, it is important to note that the discipline system can be flexible.
In years preceding the development of Community Board and Restorative Justice, students who were brought forward for discipline were asked to sign contracts with their resident counselors. For a set period of time, a student and his or her RC would meet to talk through behavioral issues and challenges.
As pointed out in the all-campus email, Restorative Justice hadn’t evolved as a process until five years ago. Sprague explained: “Prin is always evolving. The disciplinary process that Prin uses [will] reflect our best thinking at that time.”
Glen agreed: “I think we’re just always open to new ideas.”