A criminology and restorative justice minor begins fall of 2017 at Eastern Mennonite University. The new minor prepares students for careers in the legal and criminal justice systems, but may also appeal to those planning to enter other professions in which an understanding of the criminal justice system would be beneficial. (Photo by Andrew Strack)

Criminology and restorative justice minor will equip grads for diverse legal system work

Students interested in careers in law enforcement, law, social work, forensics or other related fields now have the opportunity to add a criminology and restorative justice minor at Eastern Mennonite University. The new minor, available in the fall of 2017, may also appeal to students planning to enter other professions in which an understanding of the criminal justice system would be beneficial.

“We want our students to understand and be aware of how the criminal justice system works, and be aware of alternatives that exist,” said Gloria Rhodes, peacebuilding and conflict studies professor and Department of Applied Social Science chair.

Professors Carl Stauffer (left) and Howard Zehr co-direct the Zehr Institute of Restorative Justice, which works with police departments to implement restorative justice practices. With them is colleague and restorative justice practitioner Lt. Kurt Boshart, Harrisonburg Police Department. (Photo by Andrew Strack)

Rhodes describes the program’s restorative justice perspective as one that “promotes justice as healing, wholeness and reconciliation for all parties touched by crime.” Coursework will introduce students to restorative justice as a growing field of practice that offers alternatives to the traditional criminal justice system.

Howard Zehr, a longtime professor of restorative justice at EMU, notes that many colleges and universities have begun offering programs in criminal justice as the industry has grown in recent decades.

“Most, however, are taught with a conventional and rather uncritical perspective of criminology that assumes that if crime is violent, then our response must be as well,” Zehr said. “It is both timely and appropriate that a university rooted in an Anabaptist tradition would incorporate the peacebuilding approach represented by restorative justice.”

Rhodes said the program will emphasize the practical applications of restorative justice in the criminal justice system.

“Restorative justice has become kind of a buzzword in Mennonite circles,” she said. “In this program, we’re saying that it’s not only a way of being or a philosophical or ideological commitment. We’re crafting a minor so people can think about restorative justice as being useful in their career path.”

As part of the 18-hour minor, EMU will begin offering a new course in criminology, with elective options drawing from various disciplines, including sociology, theology and peacebuilding. The program has been under development for several years, and was motivated in part by increasing interest from prospective students in studying criminal justice.

“The pairing of restorative justice with criminology is reflective of EMU’s social justice and Anabaptist faith-based perspective,” said Deirdre Smeltzer, undergraduate academic dean. “The restorative justice emphasis will help students learn theory and practice related to helping offenders acknowledge harm and strive to repair those harms; this is in contrast to the typical punishment-based approach of most criminal justice systems.”

The new undergraduate minor is the latest example of several academic programs EMU has created recently in response to growing interest in restorative justice, including a restorative justice in education graduate certificate offered through the master’s in education program and a new master’s degree in restorative justice, offered by the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. In conjunction with the new minor, the university has also just approved an accelerated five-year BA to MA in restorative justice.