Posts Tagged David Karp

College Campus Discipline That Works

Published by EducationNews.org — 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 juliasteiny.com or contact her at juliasteiny@youthrestorationproject.org. The Youth Restoration Project has a Facebook page with news and resources on the Restoration movement here and internationally.

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Communities Create Their Own Safety; Police Only Help

Published by EducationNews.org — We can fall into the habit of thinking the responsibility for certain problems belongs to someone else.

police

David Karp, who directs Skidmore College’s Project on Restorative Justice, tells this story:  Some time ago, a student, whom we’ll call Sarah, came to class one day visibly upset.  She’d been “harmed,” in the language of Restorative Justice (RJ), so her plight was appropriate for discussion in a criminal justice class.

Apparently she had been hanging with friends near their off-campus apartment when they looked up and saw a guy staring at them.  They noted that he was creepy, but whatever.  They dispersed.  That night Sarah and her housemates went to bed, but she heard noises in the living room.  She peeked to see what was going on and saw the same guy.  Freaked, she hid.  The guy left the house.  Sarah rallied her housemates, all of whom found another place to go that night.  The lock on a door had been broken, so the creep had just slipped in – and could again.

That was Sunday.  Monday was class.  She was totally rattled.  Her fellow students wanted blood, as is typical.  They wanted the cops to come and stake the place out so they could capture the guy and throw him into jail.

Problem solved.

Well, not so fast.  Yes, the police should certainly be alerted.  They should get a description of what is so far only a sketchy guy, and agree to keep an eye out for him and on that neighborhood.  They would urge getting the lock fixed.

But the police aren’t going to expend resources on a stakeout, a crime scene with finger-printing, an APB and the rest of what college TV-watchers think cops should do to protect fellow students.  The good professor’s burning question was:  Sarah felt violated, so what did she need right now?  How might Restorative Justice approach this situation?

Police do not make communities safe; communities make themselves safe. 

Communities set standards for behavior designed to help each individual feel safe.  The police are an extension of the community’s public safety efforts, but not a replacement for them — just as doctors support health, but are not replacements for healthy eating and exercise.  The rise of professional services has reduced the need to care for ourselves and one another.  So individuals fall into the habit of thinking that the responsibility for certain problems belongs to someone else.

In the Restorative Justice world, the community itself is the frontline of handing conflict and harm.  Yes, professional police do the heavy lifting of controlling uncontrollable behavior.  But safety is a product of building trust with one another.  Crime statistics notwithstanding, safety is a feeling.  These days, crime stats are down, but people still report feeling unsafe.  So without dumping the responsibility on the police, Karp asked, how can we help Sarah feel safe?

The class had to stop a moment to think.  That’s a way different problem than the one posed by our TV-infused faith in “trail ‘em, nail ‘em, jail em.”

One young man said he knew how to fix a lock and would do it after class.

Another student’s mother was a lawyer and knew about leases.  He could solicit his mom’s help getting the girl and her roommates out of that lease so they could get another place.

A third suggested all give Sarah their cell phone numbers so she can always reach out and get someone to be with her if she’s not feeling safe at home.

Sarah felt enormously supported.

So right there, in the midst of a class discussion, the offender’s side of the equation ceased to be the issue among the students.  Normally, in the current justice system, it’s the State versus Whomever.  But where’s the victim?  Who’s important here?  In traditional justice, victims have no voice in the proceedings, nor does anyone fuss about their need to heal.  But crime is a broken relationship between the victim and the offender.  And that rupture in turn rocks the trust of the community.

Karp says, “Even if there is a discussion about reparations (to victims), we don’t talk about rebuilding trust.  We build trust and community by allowing each member a voice in the process.”

Sarah came away from that class feeling far safer and more cared about personally than if the cops vowed some harsh action.  Cops would not have wrapped her warmly in their community embrace and brought their own personal resources to her aid.  This is no knock on cops; it’s just not what they do.  Sarah got super lucky that she was in that she was in a class that morning that wanted to be a community she could trust.  Individuals and communities would be better off caring for one another more intimately and using the professionals only when necessary.  We’d all feel safer if Sarah’s “luck” were more common.

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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 Department of Education and the RIDataHUBFor more, see juliasteiny.com or contact her at juliasteiny@youthrestorationproject.org. The Youth Restoration Project has a Facebook page with news and resources on the Restoration movement here and internationally.

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