UWEC developing Restorative Justice Program

The Rapid Action Task Force released nine recommendations, including the creation of a restorative justice program.

+The+university+is+creating+a+%E2%80%9Crestorative+justice%E2%80%9D+program%2C+which+will+be+considered+for+several+students+suspended+after+a+racist+incident+in+fall+2019.+%C2%A9+Emily+Shepardson%2C+2020

The university is creating a “restorative justice” program, which will be considered for several students suspended after a racist incident in fall 2019. © Emily Shepardson, 2020

Philosophies of education and healing are at the core of the restorative justice program in development at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire says Communication and Sociology associate professor Peter Hart-Brinson.

Co-chair of the Rapid Action Task Force Kim Wudi said the administration is in full support of the Restorative Justice Program.

In September, UW-Eau Claire junior Kayde Langer discovered a racist message on her dorm room door including “go back to the rez” and a slur. Made public in November, a Snapchat conversation targeting the Black Male Empowerment group on campus used Ku Klux Klan imagery, including a photo of a burning cross.

The task force developed the report in December and January after reviewing University policy and a campus survey, as well as meeting with stakeholders and victims. Subcommittees within the task force focused on culture, communication and accountability.

Co-chair of the task force Kim Wudi said student demands, including a call to implement restorative justice, played a key role in the task force’s recommendation decisions.

“One of the first things all three subcommittees did was review those demands,” Wudi said. “They told us what they wanted and what needed to happen, and we really tried to listen to those concerns and implement them.”

On February 5, the task force released a full report of recommendations, including best practices for restorative justice program development and implementation.

In its 33-page report, the task force wrote that in response to the racist incidents, many advocated for the students involved to be expelled or for the university to adopt a zero-tolerance policy going forward. Restorative justice takes a different approach by focusing on community healing and “providing an opportunity for the offender to accept responsibility,” the task force wrote.

Associate Professor Peter Hart-Brinson advocated for Restorative Justice on the Rapid Action Task Force.

Peter Hart-Brinson served on the task force and said the tenents of restorative justice align with the goals of higher education.

“Restorative justice focuses on healing the harm that has been done to a community,” he said. “In a higher education context, it provides an opportunity for growth and healing.”

Hart-Brinson said students should expect the program to be in use by the fall, as administration at the University is currently determining the logistics of the disciplinary option.

While recommendations have been provided by the Rapid Action Task Force, one student is concerned that implementation of the program will still fall short.

“The development of a restorative justice program seems like a means to an end, like a band aid on an institutional disease,” said Member of the Latinx Student Association Elder Romero Mujica.

“The campus,” he added, “shouldn’t strive to heal, the campus should strive to prevent.”