Skidmore’s Alternative to Traditional Punitive Punishment: The Project on Restorative Justice
Unfortunately, college life isn’t perfect. Sometimes students make mistakes. The Integrity Board (IB) and the Administrative Hearing Board (AHB) are the bureaus at Skidmore College responsible for assessing individual cases of wrongdoing and determining the appropriate courses of action. Like the people who make mistakes, the circumstances in which a transgression occurs are largely unique.
For particular cases in which the transgressor is truly repentant for his or her misdeeds and the harmed party is willing to seek a path of forgiveness, restorative justice can be a truly valuable and effective course of action. For one, the IB and the AHB at Skidmore do have codes of conduct, but understand both the youth of the campus population and the fact that most people would cherish a chance to change for the betterment of themselves and their communities. The college is bringing the restorative justice procedure into effect starting this year.
According to the page on the Skidmore website that highlights Skidmore’s Project on Restorative Justice, “Restorative Justice is a philosophical approach that embraces the reparation of harm, healing of trauma, reconciliation of interpersonal conflict, reduction of social inequality, and reintegration of people who have been marginalized and outcast.”
Restorative justice is an emerging disciplinary procedure that has been brought to Skidmore by Professor of Sociology, David Karp. In a book entitled Restorative Justice on the College Campus, Karp details the reasoning behind the development of this procedure as well as the various ways to implement the procedure effectively.
Professor Karp writes “The restorative justice approach...offers a communitarian alternative to liberal avoidance and conservative crackdown. It is an approach that focuses on moral education by integrating academic learning, student participation in the campus judicial process, and restorative justice principles.”
The principles of restorative justice embrace repentance and forgiveness as pathways to the repair of a sense of community. As stated on the Skidmore website for the Project on Restorative Justice, the goals of the approach are to allow transgressors to “accept and acknowledge responsibility for their offenses; to the best of their ability, repair the harm they caused to harmed parties and the community; and work to rebuild trust by showing understanding of the harm, addressing personal issues, and building positive social connections.”
Students are one of the groups crucial to the sense of community on campus. Therefore, students are encouraged to learn about how to offer their support to peers that may have had a rough patch in action. So far this semester, the Project on Restorative Justice has held several events around the topic of restorative justice.
On October 20, 2015, representatives from the Skidmore Restorative Justice Project and the club Students United for Public Education (SUPE) hosted a dinner at Cafe Lena and invited open discussion of the effects of incarceration on juveniles, how children of incarcerated parents are affected, and the related societal issues. The group explored ways to handle misbehavior and crime without harming children, families, and communities.
The following day (October 21) in Gannet Auditorium, the Project on Restorative Justice, along with co-sponsors SUPE, the Speakers Bureau, the Management and Business department, and the Sociology department, presented Margaret Thorsborne, a widely recognized expert and pioneer of restorative justice. Thorsborne’s talk was on “Understanding the nature of emotional harm: Why restorative problem-solving is good for our brains.”
On November 17, the Program on Restorative Justice held one of their more recent events, an informative session open to all staff and students. As stated in the event description on the event calendar the event focused around teaching those in attendance about, “restorative justice, Skidmore’s alternative to traditional punitive punishment.”
For all those who have discovered restorative justice, or are looking to learn more, there are several events lined up for the Spring 2016 semester. These events include training a session focused on implementing restorative justice in primary and secondary schools, which will be held from March 21 to March 22. The following month, from April 11 to April 13 there will be a training session focused on college student misconduct. All interested in signing up for the April training session may follow the link to register here.