Pilot Program Offers Students a Chance at Restorative Justice
UC Restore provides an avenue for conflict resolution and building accountability and trust, a method gaining popularity on college campuses nationwide.
One of the core questions of the Ursinus Quest curriculum is, “How should we live together?” While it’s important to ponder its application to many different situations here on campus and beyond, it certainly holds significant meaning for students on a residential college campus.
Living together is not without conflict. In order to create a stronger sense of community building—and to open a dialogue around conflict instead of simply handing down some form of punishment—Ursinus is piloting a program called UC Restore. It’s inspired by the philosophies and practices of restorative justice, allowing parties impacted by an act of harm to come together in a non-adversarial setting to encourage accountability and rebuild trust.
“One of the barriers I think that we’re always facing is that students don’t want to get others in trouble and so oftentimes, incidents will go unreported,” said Dan Kelly, associate dean of students and Title IX coordinator. “This is a program that encourages students to come forward and we will work with them on the best solution for everyone involved.”
Incidents can run the gamut, but in any instance, Kelly will do conflict coaching (one-on-one conversations with students to help them effectively manage a situation); mediation (two or more parties come together to solve a conflict); or hold facilitated dialogue (where Kelly acts as an intermediary to solve a conflict).
New this year, Kelly is implementing restorative circles and restorative conferences—very structured, formal ways of identifying harms, needs, and solutions.
“It can be really impactful for folks to move through the process and figure out a plan to move forward,” Kelly said. “It’s creating that environment where people can come forward and say, ‘You’re right, I did this, and I actively want to make it right.’ And it’s a safe space because you’re not facing any sort of punishment for it.”
These dispute resolution options are alternatives to the traditional conduct process, which can lead to a probationary period for the offending student and can impact a student’s record.
“But there are potentially long-term impacts and what ends up happening is that more harm and conflict arises,” Kelly said. “This is a totally different mindset and we’re now focused on meeting needs. Maybe punishing the roommate isn’t the best way to help both parties.”
This restorative model is well-established at larger universities, Kelly said, and it has been implemented with a measure of success. There have been limited studies conducted on restorative justice in campus conduct administration, but findings have been generally positive, especially when compared with traditional conduct processes, according to a 2020 brief on the topic published by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA).
It resonates at Ursinus thanks in part to a small, close-knit community, and Kelly said it’s already being well-received by students.
“I feel that involved parties will have a better opportunity to heal and avoid any lingering animosity after the hearing process is complete. I am hopeful that as students become more aware of this new process, they will be able to feel more heard and valued throughout any conflict resolutions they take part in.,” said Benjamin Douglas ’24, president of Ursinus College Student Government.
Kelly added, “I think it shows how much we really care. It takes more time and more energy. It can be harder on someone to come forward, take accountability, and then work to make it right. It’s not passive. But it’s an investment in the students.”