Bringing Amnesty to EMU

Eastern Mennonite University is home to one of the most seminal Restorative Justice programs in the world, as well as some of the most prolific pacifist theologians. Yet there is a gap in the perceived embodiment of justice at EMU. There are several conflicting theories of justice on campus, it seems.

Before delving into these, it is paramount for us to acknowledge that each and every person at EMU is a part of the community; that the legal apparatus exists to serve people and not vice versa – rather than using restorative justice principles to justify the law, we should strive to see situations in the way that Jesus did: “Have salt among yourselves, be at peace with one another.” (Mark 9). When Jesus interacts positively in the first-century Palestinian community, it is because he chooses to interact on behalf of the individual (like the woman he saves from execution,) or because he deals almost exclusively at an individual – not a collective – level.

Essential to community is a bottom-up, organic and un-coerced participation. To the degree that we students are forced to internalize disciplinary

tools like the rules in the Community Lifestyle Commitment, we are unable to fully participate in the moral behavior that the CLC exists to promote. All ethical behavior requires choice, and we are only ethically-whole to the extent that we choose to participate in it, when in fact we are free to do otherwise. Similarly, a community that refuses to continue “turning the other cheek” to its errant constituents – or worse, a community that is defined by behavioral standards alone – cannot rightly be called a community. I think we will find that a rigorous EMU student community will not need disciplinary tools or behavioral oversight, if it is truly a community.

The idea of placing amnesty boxes in discrete places on campus is one step in the process of empowering the community.

An amnesty box is a permanent metal fixture that is locked, like a pub- lic post box. It is a one-way drop-off into which items can be anonymously deposited. The US military has used the amnesty box in one form or another for decades to great effect. Not only might the presence of an amnesty box provide troubled friends, teachers and family a way to get rid of illegal materials without getting thrown in jail, but it would also provide a sense of security on campus; by recognizing the presence of individuals struggling with substance use problems we can empower them as part of their own recovery efforts.

Amnesty boxes would give administrators and other concerned parties an out when it comes to dealing with police: instead of sending students off in cuffs for possession of drugs, for example, students can be dealt with internally and restoratively, given personal and constructive attention.

Though it is only one step in the process of aligning our institution with our pacifist moral values, the presence of amnesty boxes on campus is important. It gives EMU the space to “turn the other cheek,” recognizing the place of the errant party within our hearts and our community without retributive action. More importantly, it provides the errant with an anonymous outlet when they decide to change their ways.

Evan Knappenberger,
Contributing Writer

Evan is a Philosophy & Theology major, president of the Charlottesville chapter of Veterans for Peace, and sits on the board of directors of the Charlot- tesville Center for Peace & Justice.


Categories: Opinion

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