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GRC hosts workshop on restorative justice to address discrimination on campus

| Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Students gathered in the Notre Dame Room in LaFortune Student Center on Tuesday evening to address topics about relationship-building and discrimination.

The Gender Relations Center and other co-sponsors hosted the event, called a Restorative Justice Workshop, as a continuation of the GRC-sponsored StaND Against Hate Week.

Rachelle Simon, facilitator of the workshop, said she felt the week aims to foster honest and sincere communication among students.

“It’s an opportunity to get conversations going on campus, to connect to people who are like us and not like us, to build relationships so that we can come to a deeper understanding, and that understanding can lead us into love,” Simon said. “We’re going to talk a little bit about the discrimination on our campus and how we might work together to move forward and find solutions.”

Different students were drawn to the workshop for different reasons. Some had already known about restorative justice and its goals, while others were interested in the general idea of dialogue among students. Senior Godsee Joy said her interest was a combination of both.

“I took a restorative justice class with Susan Sharpe,” Joy said. “It was a community-based learning class and it was incredible. It shaped my worldview and changed my presence in groups and spaces. I wanted to see how [restorative justice] looks in this kind of setting.”

Throughout the evening, Simon reached out to participants for feedback about their experiences on campus and in their personal lives. Students shared their emotional responses to issues from racism at Notre Dame to disagreements with classmates.

“Restorative justice is a posture for how to address in a community,” Simon said. “When we are in communities, it’s natural that we would accidentally hurt one another. So, restorative justice is a way to sort of address that harm. You could use this in a friendship setting, roommate setting [or] student organization setting.”

Simon contrasted the current attitudes and systems in place regarding criminal justice in America to the practice of restorative justice.

“Instead of being concerned about a behavior and a response to a behavior, which often the criminal justice system is talking about, we’re concerned about people and what they need,” she said.

Restorative justice empowers everybody to have a role in deciding what will happen, what will come out of it and what people need moving forward, Simon said.

“In our criminal justice system, one person or often a jury decides what’s right and fair and just, rather than the person that was harmed being a part of the conversation of what people need to move forward,” she said.

The evening included hands-on practice of some of the key principles of restorative justice. Simon said engaging in these practices helps create the atmosphere in which true healing can take place.

“One of the things that restorative justice does is that it’s a process that helps people to connect,” Simon said. “One of the processes is the circle process. The circle process is to make everyone feel heard and build empathy. It helps us become better active listeners and work together to figure out a way forward.”

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