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Twilight for campus legal codes? Talking circles aid the aftermath of destructively drunk students and more.

May 05, 2010

from Bonnie Price Lofton's article in The Mennonite:

After more than a decade of ushering misbehaving students at James Madison University (JMU), Harrisonburg, Va., through hearings, sanctions and other legalistic steps, Josh Bacon wanted a change.

"I went into educational leadership and student affairs because I cared about young adults and their futures," he says. "But that’s not how they perceived me—they saw me as the 'bad guy,' somebody there to enforce the university's rules, somebody who wasn’t on their side.'

Seeking a fresh approach, Bacon signed up for a restorative justice course at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, taught by an internationally recognized pioneer in the restorative justice field, Howard Zehr.

Even before the semester-long course was over, Bacon was applying restorative justice principles and techniques to cases referred to JMU’s Office of Judicial Affairs, which he directs. In the last 18 months, Bacon has offered students the option of participating voluntarily in "restorative justice circles" about 20 times. All concerned—the errant student, the people harmed by the student’s actions, community members affected by the incident, such as campus police or residence hall members—have found it to be an overwhelmingly positive experience, says Bacon.

Bacon's fresh but effective approach to discipline caught the attention of colleagues at JMU. As a result, 20 JMU officials joined 50 administrators from 11 other universities at a March 15 symposium offered by the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at EMU. About half this group returned to EMU for the next three full days to undergo intensive training. The leaders of these trainings offered multiple examples from their universities of handling destructively drunken students, vandalism, plagiarism, theft, assault, interpersonal conflict and noise issues through circles and other restorative justice processes. Bacon’s preferred process—a restorative justice circle—is not complicated, though it does require a trained facilitator, preferably with a gift for handling sensitive interactions.

Read the whole article.

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lrush says:
Jun 01, 2010 08:09 PM

Thank you Josh Bacon! This is not only a common sense approach that you have helped spread, but also a wonderful way to educate students/participants about restorative justice. You may also want to check out the International Institute of Restorative Practices, Restorative conference process. It is a scripted process (for the facilitator) that asks every participant 5 open ended questions. I used this process many times with Juveniles and it worked very well and I was able to stay neutral in my role a bit easier. I'm quite excited that universities are catching on! Good stuff!!

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