Long a pioneer in the field of restorative justice, Eastern Mennonite University will become the first in the country to offer restorative justice programs housed within a graduate education program. Beginning this fall, students in the MA in Education program will be able to pursue an interdisciplinary concentration in Restorative Justice in Education (RJE) by taking courses through the education department as well as EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding.
The education department will also begin offering a 15-hour graduate certificate in RJE for students who aren’t pursuing a master’s degree.
“Restorative justice offers a completely different model of addressing classroom discipline problems that focuses on building effective relationships both between teachers and students, and among students,” said Kathy Evans, an education professor who has led the development of the new RJE programs.
While the theories of restorative justice were originally developed as an alternative approach to criminal justice, they have increasingly been embraced by teachers looking for more creative ways to address classroom behavior and create better learning environments, said Evans, who anticipates wide interest in EMU’s new programs.
“People are hungry for good instruction about what restorative justice looks like in schools, and how they can be better prepared to be restorative justice educators,” she said.
To make the RJE programs more accessible to students from out of the area, some courses will be offered online or in other alternative formats such as on weekends or as week-long, intensive summer courses.
A successful example of restorative justice in schools was featured in a recent cover story in YES! Magazine by Fania Davis, a past instructor at EMU’s Summer Peacebuilding Institute. The executive director of Restorative Justice for Oakland (Calif.) Youth, Davis writes that restorative justice programs in some schools have been so successful at reducing suspension rates – by 74 percent in one case – that the school board has endorsed use of restorative justice throughout the city school system.
In January of 2014, the federal departments of education and justice also threw their weight behind restorative justice in the country’s schools. The agencies issued a joint letter telling teachers and administrators to address the disproportionate rates at which minority and economically disadvantaged students are suspended – suggesting, among other things, the use of restorative justice practices to address discipline problems and create healthy learning environments. With that mandate will come even more opportunity for graduates of EMU’s new RJE concentration or certificate programs, Evans said.
“The new programs in Restorative Justice in Education are an excellent example of the mission of our graduate programs, which is to meet needs in the world with our unique combination of expertise, perspective, and values,” said Dean of Graduate Studies Jim Smucker. “This concentration is a result of two graduate programs working together to offer something that is quite unique to the field of education, and something only EMU’s combination of expertise and values can provide to the world.”
Over the next several years, faculty from the MA in Education program and the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding will begin developing new courses, with the goal of eventually creating a full MA in RJE program, Evans added.
For more information on the new programs, contact Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 540-432-4590.