Over the past couple of years, the College has been rewriting some of its conduct policies. Dean of Community Values, Conflict Resolution, and Restorative Practice Jon–Mark Olivier joined the staff in the conduct office replacing Cameron Cox, whose title was Assistant Dean of Students for Conduct and Accountability. President of the College David A. Greene, along with staff in the Dean of Students Office, believes that the implementation of restorative practices in place of punitive justice regarding issues of conduct violation is better for the College community.
“Restorative justice is an approach to responding to incidents of conflict or incidents when there has been a harmed party that… seeks to create opportunities for both the harmed party and the harming parties to be restored as individuals,” Olivier explained.
By implementing restorative practices, the College is shifting its focus toward understanding the needs of the harmed party to heal, as well as actions that can be taken by the harming party to allow their reintegration into the community.
Currently, there are three processes that the parties involved can go through when a violation of conduct arises. The standard approach is for Olivier to conduct an investigation into the conduct violation, which would result in administrative meetings about the case and potential sanctions for the harming parties.
The second approach is conflict resolution.
“The easiest way to explain it is, a conflict resolution approach and a restorative practice approach have similarities in terms of them ultimately leading to some form of agreement between the parties,” Olivier said.
The conflict resolution approach and the restorative practice approach differ in their process. Conflict resolution does not require the harming parties to acknowledge the harm that occurred or claim responsibility for their actions.
“The reporting party often simply wants some conditions or restrictions in place so they can meet an agreement without there being an acknowledgment that harm has occurred,” Olivier said.
In order for a restorative process to occur, the harming parties have to be willing to acknowledge and claim responsibility for their actions and understand how they have harmed others. Once that occurs, there is a myriad of options available to the harmed party for how to proceed.
“The harmed individual has a variety of practices that they could seek… they could ask for an apology, they could ask for a facilitated dialogue… we could engage in what’s called a shuttle dialogue, where there’s no direct contact between the two but through me as a third party, I’m relaying messages between them to answer questions and resolve certain things,” Olivier said.
A student from the College who chose to remain anonymous spoke with The Colby Echo about their experience with Olivier and the new restorative practices regarding conduct violation as the harming party last spring.
Their friend reported an altercation that had occurred between her and the student resulting in Olivier calling the student into his office to mediate the conflict. One of the requests by the harmed party was an explanation for the harming party’s actions, which was delivered in the form of a letter.
“I think that it must have helped them process what happened,” the student said, “because when I was unable to do the community service [I was supposed to] due to COVID, Jon–Mark decided that I had done enough to make amends.”
In addition, the student spoke with Olivier about not drinking alcohol for a while, given that their altercation happened while inebriated. Olivier also decided that the student should restart counseling in order to process what had led them to make the decisions they did.
“The school had wanted [my therapist to] sign some forms that would essentially allow the school to report to them if I did anything else that should be addressed in a counseling context,” the student said.
At the end of the conflict resolution and restorative process, both the harmed parties and the harming parties received closure and help to heal from the incident.
“I knew what I did was wrong and I was more concerned with my own emotional recovery and growing as a person than the consequences from the school,” the student said. “I was hurting too and I knew that while I was wrong, there was still reason to empathize with me as well… the case was not so black and white with one person shouldering all the pain.”
The harming parties involved in conduct violations are often in need of a level of support as well to process the harm that came out of their actions and work on not behaving the same way again.
“I felt like what the school wanted from me in response was as much to protect myself as it was to protect other students,” the student explained.
The student in this situation felt supported by the structures in place to deal with conflict resolution and was also able to offer the harmed party a level of closure that aided their healing process.
However, the restorative practices currently present at the College are still in their infancy. Restorative justice practitioners view restorative processes as integral for the healing of a community. With punitive justice, people who inflict harm are thrown into the prison-industrial complex where they are villainized and dehumanized.
Those who do not have life sentences rarely come out reformed; in fact, there is a relatively high rate of re-incarceration in this country.
On a smaller scale, the same is true of disciplinary action on a college campus. The Echo published an article last week about the patterns of bigotry present at the College. In many cases, punitive action was taken, and the perpetrator was suspended, expelled, or given other unspecified sanctions. Thinking about these incidences as isolated rather than actions that are symptomatic of a community-wide issue is what causes issues like bigotry and sexual assault to run rampant on a college campus.
“For individuals that harmed, [restorative practice] humanizes the harm. It forces them to face, in a very visceral and emotional way the harm that they’ve caused, which has, in most cases, has a far greater impact than some sanction that some random dude in an office assigned to them,” Olivier said.
Greene and the rest of the College administration have been working to implement restorative practices on campus with the goal of creating a community that upholds the values of restorative justice.
These values are contingent upon a community that humanizes their peers and is willing to engage in confrontational dialogue about the harm perpetrated not just against an individual but against the entire community, and engage in practices to rebuild trust between the perpetrator and the community as a whole.
~ Mahika Gupta ’23