Kenan Institute Launches New Restorative Justice Project

Circle up: That’s how 40 Duke faculty, administrators and staff spent this past Wednesday when they gathered for KIE’s workshop, Building Restorative Communities @ Duke. This new initiative, led by Kenan Associate Director Ada Gregory and a campus wide steering committee, is introducing restorative practices, to create intentional community around shared values in residential and co-curricular spaces at Duke. The goal is collaborative cultural change at Duke.

The same polarization, isolation and incivility that mark the nation increasingly also mark Duke’s campus. Anger, animosity and distrust spills into social media as much as our everyday interactions. Racial and other bias incidents, hazing, sexual assault, harassment and plain indecency sometimes mar what should be an environment of self-discovery, purpose and meaning. But on Duke’s campus as elsewhere such incidents are met with a punitive or paternalistic response which does little to change behavior over time. Building Restorative Community@Duke (BRC@Duke) is based on the fundamental premise that people are happier, more cooperative, more productive and more likely to make positive changes when they work with others in authority to address concerns. The restorative practices model provides a guiding philosophy to foster community that proactively develops positive relationships, creates shared values, and manages conflict through social discipline that restores relationships by acknowledging and repairing harms. In so doing, social wellbeing, belonging and civic participation increases while misbehavior, harassment and violence decreases. This relational approach includes a continuum of practices guided by restorative principles that focuses on needs and obligations that we have to each other in community. Circle processes, conferencing and affective expression/questions provide individuals with a mechanism to dialogue, express feelings, ideas and experiences and reflect on how their behavior affects others.

To see how restorative community works in practice, the workshop provided an overview of key concepts, conversations with practitioners, and experiential opportunities. Marcia Owen and Kacey Reynolds of RJ Durham shared their experiences and lessons learned using restorative practices in the community; and the afternoon was filled with various kinds of restorative circles—even drumming circles—to build community, recognize shared values, and create dialogue around issues on campus or in the community. Participants described the day as “meaningful”, “life giving” and “transformative.”

Gregory is energized by the possibilities restorative community could offer Duke, “Because restorative practices free us from looking only through the lens of rule or law violations, we have the opportunity to address all kinds of behaviors and harms with which we often struggle. When the right to free speech seems to provide no means of accountability for something that is perhaps legally protected but nonetheless disconcerting, ugly, or even abhorrent, restorative practices provide an opportunity for us all to engage as a community to articulate how we want to be.”

As one participant noted, the movement has begun.