Posts Tagged kick-out culture

Dalhousie, A University With the Guts To Teach

Published by — Restorative Justice has been tried, honed, and is now mature enough to weather the media onslaught.


Our story takes place at top-ranked Dalhousie University in Canada.  A bunch of bad-boy dentistry students, in their 4th and last year of training, used an invitation-only Facebook page as their online men’s locker room.  Interspersed with aggressively vulgar and misogynistic posts, the men discussed their women colleagues by name.  As in:  Which woman would you most like to have “hate sex” with?  (I had to look it up.)

Last December, one of them outed the page to one of the targeted female students.  Then screen shots went viral.  And though the page was deleted, damage was done.  Immediately, the public was out for blood.  A petition demanding the men’s expulsion from the school amassed 42,000 signatures in a week.  Some faculty members similarly issued their own petition.  Kick ‘em out; heads should roll; get them out of sight and out of mind.  The media was having a field day, just as it has been with the recent rash of outed college misbehavior — drug dealing, racism, and rape.

Colleges knock themselves out to manage their students’ bad behavior privately.  Their rankings and fundraising depend on maintaining the image of an institution with noble purpose.  So, if the scandal does go public, lay the blame squarely on offenders and dispose of them.  They were the root of the problem.  They’re now expelled.  Let’s put this behind us.  End of story.

Dalhousie chooses a far tougher road:  Restorative Justice.

All 13 men have been suspended from fulfilling their clinic hours, which means that they’ll likely not graduate on time, at a minimum.  So far, that is the only apparent consequence – because all of Dalhousie’s misbehaving students are given a choice.  They can lawyer up, as did the whistleblower, and take their chances in the conventional court system.

Or, if they accept responsibility for their actions, they can participate in a Restorative Justice process.  Heads might still roll one day.  But first, University facilitators work with offenders, victims and those most directly affected.  They talk with the individuals and later bring them together as a group to understand what on earth happened.  The group will determine what would set things right, including what consequences offenders should face.

In this case, 12 of the 13 offenders agreed to the process, as did the victims and classmates not directly involved.  Almost the entire 2015 Dentistry class, 29 students total, opted to participate.  If this sounds warm and fuzzy, imagine discussing such an ugly rift with people you once considered colleagues, if not friends.  The hurt, the anger, the shame.

The Dalhousie site, dedicated to updating the public, explains:

The restorative process… requires those who have caused harm to accept responsibility and be accountable for the consequences of their actions… When wrongdoing occurs, justice requires attention to the needs of those who have been harmed… In this case this includes harm to those directly affected and more broadly to the public trust.

Restorative Justice (RJ) is not new to Dalhousie.  Certain professors in their law school are passionate RJ advocates, including Jennifer Llewellyn, whom I’ve heard speak at international conferences.  The Dalhousie RJ process has been tried, honed, and is now mature enough to weather the media onslaught currently vilifying the University’s choices.

Two remarkable things are happening.

First, the University is turning itself inside out, allowing the issues to be examined in their fullness.  On a dedicated site, the University President regularly updates the public to the extent confidentiality allows him.  He explains that the RJ evolves in its own time, so no, they do not know when it will be concluded. The University’s Committee for Academic Standards and professionalism is conducting an investigation of its own.  And a task force has been convened to investigate “Misogyny, Sexism and Homophobia in the Faculty of Dentistry.”

This is not sweeping matters under the rug.

Second, all 29 participating students recently wrote an open letter to the public begging outsiders and the media to back off and quit trying to interfere with the process or to stop it.  Published unedited, the impressive document concludes:

We believe that the education and perspective that we are gaining through our participation in the restorative justice process will allow us to be better healthcare providers, colleagues, and representatives of Dalhousie University. We ask, as a group, that our privacy and our right to pursue this restorative process off the public stage be respected. The constant public attention has been harmful and even sometimes threatening to us, our families and friends…  We hope that through this process our voices and experiences will make significant contributions to the important public discussions about sexism, misogyny, inclusion, and professionalism.

In other words, let the process teach.  Let the public learn from the participants.  Bad-boy bad apples are the symptoms, not the cause.  Kicking them out doesn’t help the University or anyone else get to the depth of cultural dysfunction that is erupting on campuses.

Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons offers a readable, if brutal, window into the pervasiveness of sickening cultural norms at high-end colleges.  Restorative justice can dig into those norms in the course of dealing with the offenders and the people they hurt.  Dalhousie is exercising true accountability.  As such, they are good teachers — and importantly, good learners.


Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist who also blogs about Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice. After serving on the Providence School Board, she became the Providence Journal’s education columnist for 16 years, and has written for many other outlets. As the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, she’s been building demonstration projects in Rhode Island since 2008. She analyses data and provides communications consulting on Information Works! and the RIDataHUB, through The Providence Plan. For more detail, see or contact her at or 24 Corliss Street #40022, Providence, RI 02904.

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‘Circles of Support,’ Socialization Reduce Sex Offender Recidivism

Published by — People who have social support do well.  People who don’t, don’t.  Period.


For most of his career, Dr. Robin Wilson, Ph.D. lied about his profession when asked socially.  He’d say he was an accountant, a pilot, a businessman.  It was easier that way.  Then he decided to man up.  Actually, he’s a psychologist who specializes in sex offenders.  To a person, he marvels, people reacted to his profession with exactly the same response.  Little old ladies making conversation on a plane say:  “Oh, there’s nothing you can do about them.”  (Wilson is a fun, funny speaker.)

Honestly, prior to his speech, I also supposed they were uniquely incurable.  Creepy, dark, victimizing sexual urges just couldn’t be rooted out of a person’s psychology.

Of course, such thinking exemplifies the American kick-out mentality at its most complete.  It’s my core business to work toward embracing “bad” people, especially bad kids, as integral members of their communities.  But I’d never looked twice at my assumption that sex offenders couldn’t be in the mainstream.

Wilson says, “It’s our kneejerk reaction to lock ‘em up.  These guys — 95% are men — come from the community.  We remove them.  Then when they go back, there is no community.  They were never integrated in the first place.”  So we put them in prison, which is itself sexually horrible.  The Courts assure us, with proof, that people in prison really are bad, so prison rape ignites surprisingly little outrage.  In any case, no one learns community-appropriate skills in a prison.  Indeed, I think prison is itself a mental illness.

So instead of helping to integrate these men into a healthy community, we further isolate and stigmatize them.  Laws, policies, and regulations make life nearly impossible for convicted sex offenders — finding housing, work, dignity.

And then they reoffend.  They want connection, but got seriously off track trying to get it.  Early treatment options — like electro-shocking their penises when they see pictures of children — didn’t work.  Those barbaric efforts, back in the 1970s, were the beginning of the “nothing works” movement.

Then Wilson and others began to develop a protocol called “Circles of Support.”  Consider Charlie Taylor’s story.  Taylor had been in foster and institutional care since he was 4.  Already as a young kid, he was a repeat offender.  His offenses got worse with age, which only made it harder for him to build a healthy social group for himself.  Social services didn’t want him.  And in the service of “protecting” the larger community, the media publicized his name and offenses.  A modern leper, Taylor’s risk of re-offending was 100%.

But a Mennonite pastor, Reverend Harry Nigh, took him in.  Nigh was “Charlie’s angel.”  For the record, the Mennonites, particularly Howard Zehr, studied, developed and practiced restorative justice decades ago, when it was a loony fringe idea.  Like most religious groups at their best, the Mennonites are all about the community, specifically its power to heal.  So Nigh set about understanding what sorts of social relationships and supports, called “circles” in Restorative language, could successfully integrate Taylor and others like him.

Wilson explains that in a Circle of Support, a professional case manager helps the offender forge strong relationships with both informal, or “natural” supports, and professionals.  To achieve adequate “dosage,” the natural supports must include at least 4 to 6 people who see the offender often, do stuff with him, and get him involved in work, volunteering, hobbies, keeping house.  Case managers knock themselves out to re-establish broken relationships with ex-wives, estranged siblings, parents, fishing buddies, whomever.  These informal supports need to be reasonably healthy people.  Social contacts, likely weak or non-existent before the offense, are key to bringing the offender out of the isolation that got him into trouble.

Then, professionals — social workers, psychiatrists, and psychologists — help the whole mini-community around the offender keep their collective relationships strong.  After all, Wilson says, “People who have social support do well.  People who don’t, don’t.  Period.  Without my own social circle, I might have problems with alcohol, difficulty adjusting and making relationships.  I might become likely to offend.”

A Circle of Support does not guarantee zero recidivism.  But the data are dramatically positive.  There is something you can do.

And the lesson in all this, a point Wilson made in emphatic theme and variation, is that safety is a community responsibility.  Social isolation triggers all manner of mental illness, including sex disorders.  For everyone at all ages, strong, natural social ties both prevent disorders and aid healing when psycho-social problems happen.  “We can not exclude the community from the risk-management process.  Safety is the standards kept by the people, not the police.”


Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist who also blogs about Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice. After serving on the Providence School Board, she became the Providence Journal’s education columnist for 16 years, and has written for many other outlets. As the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, she’s been building demonstration projects in Rhode Island since 2008. She analyses data and provides communications consulting on Information Works! and the RIDataHUB, through The Providence Plan. For more detail, see or contact her at or 24 Corliss Street #40022, Providence, RI 02904.

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Juvenile Prison Stats Reveal American Attitudes Towards Kids

Published by — America’s contempt towards kids who do bad things is unique, internationally.

There is no alternative universe where bad kids go and get better.  Period.  Such a place does not exist.

Mind you, it’s insane to tolerate classroom or school disruptions, never mind criminal activity among children and youth.  A kid wasting a class’s time by flipping over a desk and swearing at a public-school teacher is effectively stealing taxpayers’ money.  A thief is a thief, no matter how old.  Whether kids behave disruptively or criminally, we need to act quickly or they’ll get the idea that what they’re doing is okay.  It’s not.

But why is the most frequent solution kicking kids out?  Alternatives can be found.  But overwhelmingly, American schools and its judicial system remove little rotters from their classrooms, or from the families and communities that raised them, and warehouse them in behavior-disordered classrooms, boot camps, alternative schools or juvenile prisons.  There, they get worse.  Researchers call it “congregate contagion,” meaning they catch bad ideas from other bad kids, like catching measles.  Then they return to the families and communities that didn’t know what to do with them in the first place, having gotten zero help with receiving them back successfully.  How’s that going to make the kid better?

Very smart people, whom I respect, seem to wear blinders to ignore what happens after the kick-out.  Today I’ll pick on one such smart person, Philip Howard, founder of Common Good, precisely because otherwise I admire him tons.  He pleads passionately for simplifying the rules, laws, and regulations that muck up government’s ability to get anything done.  His book The Death of Common Sense permanently transformed how I thought about rules and regs.  His recent work, The Rule of Nobody, argues that legalistic micro-managements absolve actual humans from making judgments and taking accountability for them.  I’m with him.

But is it common sense to include in Howard’s lists of regulatory idiocies rules that limit kids being summarily removed from class?  For him it’s a no-brainer; kick ‘em out.  But where and how will bad kids ever learn community-appropriate rules if not in a healthy community?  For example, wouldn’t it be cheaper and far more effective than prisons or other warehouses to pair a non-violent kid with a trained person, working one on one to reintegrate him or her into the home, school and community in healthy ways?

If presented with the evidence, I bet even Howard would agree prisons offer no hope of making bad kids better.  And yet they are an over-flowing landfills of unwanted children.

Consider the Cross-national Comparison of Youth Justice.

America’s contempt towards kids who do bad things is unique, internationally.  A fascinating study by researcher Neal Hazel looks at incarcerated youth and children, under 18, across juvenile-justice systems in 20-plus nations.  The differences are stunning.  (You’ll find his chart comparing countries on page 59.)

The lowest juvenile rates are:

Japan           0.1 (youth per 100,00 under 18)

Finland         3.6

Sweden        4.1

As a British researcher, Hazel bolds the U.K. data, horrified to find that the highest rates include:

England and Wales   46.8

South Africa               69.0

But the showstopper is U.S. rate at:  336.0.  It’s the only rate in triple digits.  Nearly 5 times that of the next highest, South Africa.  That’s an enormous garbage heap of kids.  If Americans aren’t genetically prone to produce bad kids, what is the data saying?

Yes, it’s a no-brainer to protect the kids who are cooperating from the disruptive ones.  But our solution creates a different problem.  Howard is both a famous author and a lawyer.  So I’m assuming that whether or not he has kids of his own, he runs with the private-school set.  When kids do the naughty in private schools, they’re out.  End of discussion.  They probably go to public schools.  Some kids, mainly poor and minority, go to urban schools of last resort, the very schools that have been mandated by the President to reduce suspensions and expulsions.  When you’re at the cushy end of segregation, removing disruptive kids is simple and just common sense.  As long as you don’t think about where they end up.

Every night we sit in front of the TV and watch cops shows with plots that follow some version of trail ‘em, nail ‘em, jail ‘em.  Right and wrong are so obvious.  Wrong is wrong.  No excuses.  No mercy.  Bad guys need to be punished and put away.  Anything else is Officer Krupke liberal excuse-making.

Loving and caring for all kids is not simple and often requires more than common sense.  American attitudes towards troubled young people are writ large in our willingness to throw them away.  We do so our own peril.

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist who also blogs about Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice.  After serving on the Providence School Board, she became the Providence Journal’s education columnist for 16 years, and has written for many other outlets.  As the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, she’s been building demonstration projects in Rhode Island since 2008.  She analyses data and provides communications consulting on Information Works! and the RIDataHUB, though The Providence Plan.  For more detail, see or contact her at or 24 Corliss Street #40022, Providence, RI 02904.


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