Inspired by groups like Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth, Incite! (a national activist group also known as Women, Gender Non-Conforming, and Trans Women of Color Against Violence), and the Skidmore Project on Restorative Justice, Reed’s Restorative Justice Coalition (RJC) recently submitted a policy to the college’s legislative process that intends to revolutionize how we think about justice at Reed. The project has been in the works for just over a year, starting as an initiative to introduce restorative methodology to Title IX cases.
Eleanore Denegre, RJC co-founder, explained some of the motivation behind starting the current iteration of the policy: “it became really clear to me that the traditional systems we have in place were not meeting people’s needs, and instead often ended up being incredibly re-traumatizing or inaccessible despite the best efforts of people in our community.” Denegre said that RJC is looking for a way to bring the college’s administration, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) advocates, and the Honor Council together to create new ways of healing within the Reed community.
To spread awareness of the policy submission, RJC released a flyer defining restorative justice as a method that “reframes our approach by asking questions that focus on repairing harm instead of determining punishment: who was harmed, what are the needs and responsibilities of all affected, and how can affected parties together address and repair harm?”
In the remainder of the flyer, RJC elaborates on the main goals of the policy and how it differs from current Judicial Board processes: the new method will involve two student facilitators in a circular equity-based discussion, extensive preparation work and writing done before the trial begins aimed at customizing each trial to its participants, community member participation, and an overall emphasis on collaboration in determining the outcomes of the process.
The restorative method would act as an alternative to, rather than a replacement of, the current Judicial Board system. This means all parties would have to agree to work within a restorative justice framework for the trial to proceed outside of the Judicial Board’s jurisdiction. However, Denegre’s personal dream is for the policy to “become as institutionally supported as Honor Council or J-Board, and for the group to have room to grow and expand.” She adds that while restorative justice is not currently ready to be applied to Title IX cases, developing it for the purpose of addressing cases of sexual assault “in a sensitive and trauma-informed way” is also a goal of the group, which hopes to focus more on community discussion of Title IX this semester. Denegre says the ideal is to begin to incorporate restorative justice into as many areas of the community as possible.
The fact that this policy submission comes on the heels of a massive Judicial Board case against students who occupied Elliot hall in protest of Reed’s investment in Wells Fargo last semester seems an unlikely coincidence. While Denegre maintained that RJC had been writing the first version of the policy long before protests began, she agreed that “the protests have been really, really influential and have brought issues and concerns to light that might have be underemphasized or missed in the policy otherwise.” Regarding RJC’s close alignment with Reedies Against Racism (RAR) initiatives Denegre said, “It was really meaningful and validating to see restorative justice mentioned specifically in RAR’s list of demands.”
For community members who are interested in creating and submitting their own policies, Denegre says the key is to be as bold and daring as possible in approaching people in power. “Student senators or people in Reed’s administration can be more accessible and less intimidating than they might sometimes seem,” she said, emphasizing the active role that even students who are not involved in student government can play in shaping school policy. “Being a student doesn’t make you less qualified to create change at Reed. In many ways, it does the opposite.”
Students and community members who support the incorporation of restorative justice into Reed judicial processes can go to groups.google.com and sign up for the RJC mailing list, ReedRJCoalition@groups.reed.edu. One can also keep an eye out for events around campus and in SB Info, and spread awareness by explaining the importance of the policy to professors.
For those who want even more information and ways to get involved, Eleanore Denegre can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.