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NewsApr 14, 2020

Working to infuse university life with restorative justice principles

Lesley and others look to handle transgressions in ways that repair harm and rebuild community trust

Restorative Justice conference speakers
Above: Lilu Barbosa, Maritsa Barros, Meenakshi Chhabra, Pierre Berastain and Nina Harris at the Convening on Campus Restorative Justice at Lesley University.

Restorative justice can build inclusive communities in addition to informing, transgressions great and small, from academic malfeasance to felonies.

The practice of restorative justice — employed by our Bias Education & Response Team and a subject of graduate-level study — works to strengthen and heal communities, repair harm and re-establish trust on a day-to-day basis, and in response to individual and community harm. Restorative justice draws on indigenous circles and formal and informal conferencing practices.

In February, Lesley hosted the half-day Convening on Campus Restorative Justice, a collaboration between our Office of Diversity Equity and Inclusion and Harvard University's Office of Sexual Assault Prevention & Response. The event, held in Washburn Auditorium, drew 40 participants from more than a dozen institutions and consultancies and was followed up by a virtual convening on April 1.

According to Professor Meenakshi Chhabra and Maritsa Barros, associate diversity officer and executive director of our Urban Scholars Initiative, the purpose of the afternoon of dialogue was to foster community and harness participants’ collective resources in support of more restorative and just campuses. The vision is to move towards having restorative justice principles of “engagement, accountability and restoration,” infused in all aspects of our campus culture, as a way of being with each other.

Meenakshi Chhabra and Nina Harris speak at the podium
Meenakshi Chhabra and Nina Harris speak at the conference.

Chhabra adds that the convening was the first to bring together people from area campuses who have already integrated and implemented restorative justice, or who are interested in doing so.

Some of the findings of the event include:

  • Restorative conversations and community-building circles are being widely used by campuses and other organizations to address bias incidents.
  • Student buy in to restorative justice on almost all campuses, as it is perceived and received as aligning with social justice principles
  • However, the lack of training and resources remain impediments to implementation in most universities and other organizations.

According to Chhabra, the majority of the convening participants “found it very helpful, supportive and informative.”

Among the comments from participants (with anonymity protected) are:

  • The convening “allowed me to move out of the student-conduct lens.”
  • “There is a shift happening on campuses towards restorative justice.”
  • “There is great energy for this work and we should tap into these, and we can and should tap into the knowledge of our peers both on campus and across organizations.”
People sitting around a table.
Lesley faculty and staff participate in the conference.

One of the questions that the community is continuing to grapple with is how to integrate restorative justice principles and practices with existing campus policies, around disciplinary and Title IX issues, Chhabra says.

“Restorative justice is at the center of the Bias Education Response Team in order to make space for individuals to learn and grow, while creating the opportunity for individuals to exercise their innate capacity to empathize with others in a way that has not been available to our community in the past,” Barros says.

Chhabra, Nina Harris, education specialist at Harvard’s Office of Sexual Assault Prevention & Response, and Pierre Berastain, director of Harvard’s Office of Sexual Assault Prevention & Response, facilitated the forum, with support from Barros and Lilu Barbosa, chief diversity officer from Lesley.