How Can Restorative Justice Improve Relationships and Communication?

Type of process: Community Group Conference

Conference Participants:

  • Offender- George
  • Hall Manager- Daisy
  • RA/Impacted Party- Jonathan
  • 2 Facilitators

Disciplinary Measure Pending: In the worst case, being evicted from the Residential Hall for assault

Referring agent: University Residential Life staff

Factual Synopsis: What started as George teasing his RA Jonathan about his outfit escalated when George shoved Jonathan. George perceived it as messing around, but Jonathan saw it as aggressive and clearly crossing a line.

Narrative: Jonathan is the type of RA who likes to have a good time with his residents, often joking around and hanging out with them in the hallway in the evenings. Over the first few months of the school year, Jonathan had become good friends with many of his residents, including George.

Jonathan was on his way back to his room from a hall event when George stopped him in the hallway to poke fun at his clothing, which was overalls he had chosen as a fun outfit for a hall gathering.  The two jokingly argued back and forth for a while with Jonathan saying that George shouldn’t judge people by what they wear. Then George shoved Jonathan, causing him to stumble backwards a few steps. Jonathan explained that it was a big deal and that shoving a person in that way is something George could be written up for. George responded by laughing and saying that he wasn’t afraid of Daisy (the Hall Manager). Jonathan felt that George really wasn’t taking the incident seriously and worried about how the other residents in the hall would perceive the event and returned to his room to file a report.

When we spoke with George in the pre-conference, it was clear that he had not grasped the impact of his actions on Jonathan and felt that they had just been joking around and that Jonathan had overreacted. Going into the conference meeting, he was taking responsibility for what had happened, by did not understand why it had been a problem.

When we met with Jonathan, he talked about how in the town he is from, shoving someone in that way is often the beginning of a physical fight. His first reaction in that moment was concern that the conflict was escalating and awareness that George is a much larger guy than he is. He also felt very aware of his role as an RA, as a student leader and authority in the hall. He felt that George shoving him like that disrespected his role as an RA and put him in a difficult position as he tries to balance being both George’s RA and his friend. He worried that George wasn’t respecting the RAs and Hall Manager in the building.

When we brought George, Jonathan and Daisy together in the restorative justice conference, it was tense at first. Jonathan and George had talked briefly in the hallway the day after it happened to ask if everything was cool, but they hadn’t really had a chance to talk about what had happened and how they each were impacted. The understanding wasn’t there so the relationship hadn’t really been repaired.

Through the process, the two men saw the incident from each other’s perspective. By the time we were done discussing the story and the impacts and had moved on to ideas to repair the harms and make things right, George, Jonathan and Daisy were laughing and joking with each other. As a contract item, George agreed to help Jonathan plan and lead an inter-floor video game tournament to strengthen their community and cement their repaired friendship. Both George and Jonathan felt like the issue was resolved following honest communication and they both hung around long after the process was complete laughing and chatting.

So often, conflicts between friends, colleagues and family members fester underneath the surface, preventing true reconciliation. Even when we attempt to talk things through one on one, it is often hard to really speak about how we were impacted and what can happen now to make things right without the help of a facilitator to hold a safe space for an open, honest conversation. Through the facilitated restorative justice conversation, impacts are voiced, plans for repair are formed, and relationships are strengthened.

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