Redefining and Expanding EMU’s Role in Restorative Justice

by Han ParkRestorative Justice has become a catch phrase at EMU, and in the broader context of judicial reform, within the past two decades.

Many of us at EMU, especially within the peacebuilding field, have become familiar with the concept of justice in terms of harm and righting wrongs. However, EMU as an institution has not had an established identity in this field until recently.

This year, the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding is redesigning its role in the larger restorative justice field by establishing the Zehr Institute of Restorative Justice. Howard Zehr, longtime faculty at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, and Carl Stauffer will be co-directing the new Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice.

As of April, Zehr will no longer be engaged in a teaching capacity at EMU. On faculty since 1996, Zehr says that as an introvert, teaching has always taken a lot of energy out of him and while he has always enjoyed his interactions with students, it is time to move on. However, CJP is not ready to lose the “grandfather of Restorative Justice,” as Zehr is commonly known.

“We still really need Howard’s voice, and he has the energy to give voice to it,” says Stauffer.

In this new capacity, Zehr will continue to meet with students and to connect his large network of relationships in the restorative justice field to CJP and EMU, but will hopefully also have more time for other pursuits, such as photography. Additionally, his legacy will remain attached to the restorative justice field at EMU through the institute that holds his name.

The Center for Justice and Peacebuilding has become known in the broader conflict transformation field as a graduate program that tries to hold the concepts of justice and peace together.

Zehr has been a pioneer in the vision for holding together these two concepts that are often seen as conflicting. By capitalizing on this model for linking justice with peace, the new Zehr Institute would offer a unique voice to the broader Restorative Justice community that focuses on restorative justice as a paradigm shift and a not simply a reform model for the criminal justice system.

In Zehr’s opinion, “you don’t change things unless you change the underlying framework,” and to change the framework of restorative justice is not about “justice reform, but a conversation about what is important.”

The Institute will give the broader EMU community and the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding in particular a new prerogative and platform from which to engage the broader Restorative Justice community.

Through webinars, consultations, and seminars, Stauffer hopes that they will draw together people from different sectors of society who are interested in engaging the concept of restorative justice as a paradigm shift – both critics and supporters.
One such opportunity to engage a wide variety of people is a webinar with Sujatha Baliga on January 30. Baliga recently made the New York Times as the facilitator of a high profile and highly controversial restorative justice case in Tallahassee, Fla.

Thanks to Zehr’s connection to Baliga, the webinar will be able capitalize on the media attention the Tallahassee case has already drawn and hopefully provide a platform for the Zehr Restorative Institute to engage the larger community.

The actual nuts and bolts of how the Institution will develop are still not nailed into place; however, both Zehr and Stauffer are convinced that it will focus on continuing to build on the large network of practitioners, researchers, and theorists that Zehr has developed throughout his years of work in the field.

-Bekah Enns, Contributing Writer

Categories: Feature

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