Posts Tagged college life

College Campus Discipline That Works

Published by — Revenge may be satisfying, but it rarely leads to positive change.

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

Here’s a clear, real-life illustration of the use of Restorative Justice (RJ).  Skidmore professor David Karp tells the story of how the college handled two virtually identical incidents before and after the implementation of a RJ campus discipline system.  Karp literally wrote the book on College Campus Restorative Justice initiatives.  He’s a frequent speaker at national and international conferences, where I heard this story.

Both incidents involved young men who were very drunk.  In their stupor, each had lost the key to their dorms.  Each had the genius idea of getting back into the dorm by climbing through a first-floor window.  Each had the ill luck to choose the single room of a female student.  Each scared the bejeezus out of that young woman.

CASE #1:  The young woman complained, rightly, to the campus Disciplinary Board.  When she met with the Board, she gave her testimony and left.  Separately, the young man also met with them.  The Board imposed a set of sanctions on him as a condition of staying on campus.  Key was that he was to have no contact with the girl.

Separating a wrong-doer from the victim seems to make good sense.  Don’t subject the victim to further exposure with the guy who hurt, or in this case, scared her.  But the girl remained fearful.  Could it happen again?  Had he targeted her?  Was he still a threat to her or anyone else?  Surely you’ve had the experience of letting your mind go wild with negative possibilities when you don’t know anything about the random person who did you wrong.  I was once robbed and remained frightened for months afterwards, not knowing exactly what threat to us was lurking out there.  The unknown can be terrifying.

So, though sanctions had been imposed, they didn’t stop the feelings involved.  In this case, the offender became resentful of the girl for getting him into such trouble.  Yes, he made a bad mistake, but he felt more harshly punished than he deserved.  And as happens on gossipy college campuses, she found out that he was angry, provoking yet more feelings — more fear, defensiveness, anger.  Then he heard that she knew he was angry, which just made him madder.  As Karp says, “worst case scenario.”  The tensions grew with no mechanism for resolution.  Full-on kicking him out would have been too severe, so they were stuck.  Ultimately the Board’s decisions didn’t do anyone much good.

CASE #2:  The basic facts are the same, though a bit more serious because the female student was just getting out of the shower.  She screams.  He screams.  They’re both terrified.  He pushes past her, so there was some physical contact.

When she filed her complaint, she was offered the Restorative option, which was new to Skidmore at the time.  She could either take him before the Discipline Board per usual, or both of them would go to “conference,” which is to say a supervised, facilitated conversation.  RJ options are always voluntary.  First and foremost, the victim chooses.  And if the offender refuses to participate, the matter goes the traditional route.  A trained facilitator talks to each party separately about what to expect and what they would want out of the face-to-face meeting.

The young woman came with three specifics she wanted to discuss:

1.  She wanted him to understand her fear.  Her terror was not an abreaction.  A naked woman, alone and confronted by a male intruder, fears many things, not the least of which is rape.  So they talked about rape.   And that led to the two of them considering how they could work together to help others understand the ugliness of rape itself and the fear of it.

2.  Why was he so drunk?  What is it about college that excessive drinking is the entree into most social circles?  Was it even possible to organize an alcohol-free social event that would actually be attractive to Skidmore students?  He agreed to work on arranging one as part of his reparations to her.

3.  Why is it so easy to climb in a first-floor window?  This good question was not for the boy, but for the college itself.  As a result of this particular conference, Skidmore literally changed the first-floor windows.

In other words, the RJ process opened up important conversations, all of which had ramifications beyond the two students.  They were no longer strangers.  And they weren’t potential enemies either.  The icing on the cake was that the incident generated ideas and actions aimed at preventing similar incidents in the future.

The traditional kick-out system focuses on the establishment of guilt or innocence and punishing the guilty.  Restoration examines the context in which the offense took place and works to heal both the parties involved — and to change that context, when needed.

Revenge can be very satisfying.  But it rarely teaches anything positive.  Vengeance against the many drunk college men who’ve behaved very badly over the years hasn’t done a thing to prevent more drunken young men from doing the same.

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist writing about kids and schools through the lens of Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice.  Currently she is Project Manager for a National Institute of Justice grant to study the effectiveness of restorative conferencing programs now being implemented in six Rhode Island Schools.  Steiny is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, the design partner in the grant.  After serving a term on the Providence School Board, for 16 years she wrote the Providence Journal’s weekly education column.  Since 1998, she has consulted with The Providence Plan on data analysis and communications, helping to develop Information Works! for the RI school department and the RIDataHUBFor more, see or contact her at The Youth Restoration Project has a Facebook page with news and resources on the Restoration movement here and internationally.

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If Parents Want Graduates, Raise Resilient Kids

Published by — If we want to see graduation rates improve, parents are going to have to introduce their kids to adulthood before sending them to college.

Congratulations high school grads!  In the Fall, many of you will go off to college, with all its adult freedom and delights.

But do you have the grit, the resiliency to complete a degree?  Beware.  You have lower odds than you think.

The sad graduation rate of U.S. high schools has finally climbed over 70 percent.  But a dirty secret of higher ed is that, on average, their graduation rates are even lower.  Obstacles abound to finishing a degree these days – money being the biggest.

But frankly, second to money, just leaving the comfortable nest at home has never been so hard.

To explore this issue, I talked with David Lux, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Bryant University in Smithfield, Rhode Island.

Bryant has particularly acute problems with home-attached students because its mission, and claim to fame, is that it gets its graduates prepared to work confidently in the global economy.  Bryant is known for its business programs, and business is increasingly international.

Bryant requires students to travel abroad, with exceptions, of course.  Its long-standing president, Ronald Machtley, declared ten years ago that 100 percent of its grads would have passports – only 30 percent of all Americans do.  He’s since settled for 80 percent.  Bryant is in the top 20 colleges and universities to give students international experience.

So Bryant students leave not just home, but also country.  More grit required.

Lux says that his colleagues across the country notice the same three problems with keeping students on track.

First is “the overwhelming experience of being away from home for the first time.”

Lux explains, “When I talk to parents, I ask how many of you give your son or daughter a wake up call in the morning, that shout upstairs?  About 80 percent do.  I say, stop that.  Our kind of students are primarily middle class, so they’ve been the focus of helicopter parents.  I ask how many kids have their own room and have never shared a room?  Because they’re about to be jerked out of their comfort zones.”

The inevitable second problem is the culture shock of mingling with peers from all kinds of backgrounds, with different levels of academic preparation.

Lux speaks for them, “Either I’m smarter than everyone, and I already did this.  Or I was at the top of my class in high school, and here I’m the dumbest person in the school.”

Mind you, Lux and I exchanged our own experiences of leaving home and going to college, so the challenge of this transition is not new.  As a fun-loving West-Coast girl, I thought competitive Easterners behaved like walking resumes.  But then, my parents were far from helicopter helpers; it was exclusively my job to deal with competition.

Third, and by far the newest and culturally oddest problem, kids don’t have what Lux calls “college street smarts.”  They don’t know how to hook into what works for them.  And the problems are always someone else’s fault.  The professor is at fault for going too fast or slow.  Students don’t actively use their friends and advisors to find the professors that work best for them.  Their success is not really their responsibility.

Bryant students are generally from homes where small business is important, often the source of the family income.  Such homes give lip service to the idea of self-reliance but don’t get their kids to practice it.  Mom and Dad have been doing for that kid for so long, he or she is calling home daily for guidance on the littlest things.

“Parents call me to complain about what’s happening with Johnny or Suzy – there’s a roommate problem, or grades.  I ask them to send the kid himself to see me.  If kids want counseling services, I hand them a card and have them make the phone call.  Get kids to advocate for themselves.”

So Bryant created lots of strategies to connect students to the college community.  Research shows that more than anything, engagement in campus activities, the extra-curriculars, best improves student retention and academic success.

But developing grit and academic street smarts should start much earlier.  Lux adds that “the world of K-12 education also has set itself against brain executive function.  Parents and schools supervise the whole life experience of a kid.  They debilitate the students from learning any kind of self-efficacy.  There are those who say that K-12 students have fewer civil rights than any group in the country.”

Parents and schools in this Land of the Brave have become stunningly risk averse.  Parents and schools both obsess about safety and control, working compulsively to prevent kids from under-performing on tests or taking risks that might jeopardize getting into the best college.  Schools, zoos and public agencies of all kinds are terrified of liability.  So many kids today grow up in a bubble of protective over-supervision.

Then they leave for college.  No more bubble.

Lux says that Bryant wants to teach students to trust that they can figure it out themselves.  A Bryant student or grad should be able to arrive in an airport anywhere in the world, where they do not speak the language, and negotiate their way to their destination.

Adventure is intrinsically risky.  So are adulthood, business and freedom.  Live with it.

Lux concludes, “Getting out of your comfort zone and learning to deal – that’s what education is all about.”

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist whose work also regularly appears at and GoLocalWorcester.  She is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, a restorative-practices initiative, currently building a demonstration project in Central Falls, Rhode Island.  She consults for schools and government initiatives, including regular work for The Providence Plan for whom she analyzes data. For more detail, see or contact her at or c/o GoLocalProv, 44 Weybosset Street, Providence, RI 02903.

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