A new student leadership position in the Office of Student Support and Community Standards, the MRJ Fellow, was created to proactively provide education and outreach to the Bates community. MRJ Fellows seek to engage students, faculty, and staff in meaningful conversations that will strive to build community and mutual respect. All three fellows have nationally recognized Mediation certificates acquired from the short term class Mediation and Restorative Justice. We strive to help individuals and communities develop the capacity to communicate effectively and work through conflict on their own, through mediation and restorative justice practices.
Mediation, completely confidential and voluntary, is a facilitated conversation between two parties in conflict who desire help in coming to a resolution. A mediator is a neutral, third-party perspective that helps foster a healthy dialogue between two parties in conflict, and helps them come to a solution.
RJ can be defined as a process to involve, to the extent possible, those who have a stake in a specific offense and to collectively identify and address harms, needs and obligations, in order to heal and make things as right as possible.
To better understand RJ, let us look at a hypothetical situation in a residence hall. Imagine you are woken up at 3 am by one of your floormates for the fourth time this week. Recently, he has been drinking more than usual and has been disruptive almost every night. The following morning you find vomit in the bathroom as well as a hole near your door. The traditional process would not ask the question: “How can we rebuild the floor community?” Instead it would ask: “How can we punish this offender? Suspension? A Fine?” Through a RJ lens, it is clear that the floor’s community has also been affected – perhaps there has been a violation of trust, respect, etc. A restorative process would seek to reach out to those impacted, the community, the victim and the offender.
A prerequisite to RJ is consent to meet and exchange experiences. Additionally, the offender must acknowledge to some degree that their actions caused harm. In order to do this, one would take time to prepare the individuals involved for a restorative conference by explaining what the process looks like and confirming consent. In this case, the restorative conference may have looked like a circle that was moderated by a RJ facilitator who posed questions or requests such as, “Can you explain to us, through your eyes, what happened that night?” The goal of this first round is to allow all members to clarify their side of the story. Further questions would develop the stories and identify the harms that were caused. At the circle those impacted and the offender could have an advocate such as a family member or partner. In this case, addressed topics may have been a violation and impact on trust in fellow Bates students, concerns for safety, a soiled image of individual character, a hole in the wall, and alcohol’s influence on judgement to name a few. After identifying what the harms were, the moderator would pose questions with the theme: What can be done to repair these harms? In a non-coercive space the stakeholders‒the floor members and the offender‒are allowed to generate possible solutions that hold purpose and specific relevance to their case. This active exchange would give the offender more sovereignty over the process and actively engage the individual instead of promoting a more passive process where the person sits down and receives judgement and punishment.
To recap, Restorative Justice employs a victim-orientated mindset, a corrective to the offender-orientation, which excludes the victim. RJ, like the traditional system, recognizes an imbalance that must be repaired by evening the score. While Retributive Justice theory proposes that pain will absolve the offender and the issue, Restorative Justice theory asserts that vindication comes from acknowledgment of the victims’ harms and needs, augmented by an active push for righting the wrongs, for offenders to assume responsibility, and for addressing the origins of the harmful behavior. If you would like to learn more about Mediation or Restorative Justice, feel free to contact us at MRJFellows@bates.edu.