After spending four years at a university known worldwide for its teachings around restorative justice, Katrina Poplett developed a vision for how the institution might better educate its own campus community in restorative practices.
She began planning for a campus-wide training at Eastern Mennonite University as part of her capstone project to earn a bachelor’s degree in peacebuilding and development, and then, as a graduate student in the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding’s MA in restorative justice program, applied for and was awarded a CJP Creative Initiatives Community Engagement grant.
That grant enabled her vision to come to fruition in October 2018, when Poplett joined with campus restorative justice practitioners and other graduate students to host 24 participants for a day-long training.
“We had several goals, but mainly we wanted to increase knowledge across campus about restorative practices and empower students, faculty and staff from different parts of campus to use these practices to address conflicts in a more restorative way that encourages communal accountability and relationship-building,” Poplett said. “We also wanted to start conversations about how restorative justice can be used every single day by everyone.”
The two training facilitators were Professor Johonna Turner and Associate Dean of Students Jonathan Swartz. Turner arrived at EMU as a faculty member for CJP’s new MA in restorative justice program in 2015. Now a co-director of the Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice, she also teaches undergraduate and graduate classes on restorative practices, among other topics.
Since 2015, Swartz has filled several roles, reflecting increased attention and resources to restorative justice practices in the campus community. He was named EMU’s first restorative justice coordinator in 2015, the responsibilities of which were folded, two years later, into a new position called director of residence life, student accountability and restorative justice. His current title as associate dean still includes accountability and restorative justice.
Poplett served as a coach during the training, with fellow graduate students Mikayla Waters-Crittenton and Fabiana Espinal. She came away from the learning opportunity “grateful” for participants who were “engaged and critically thinking about how restorative justice could be used in their own life,” she said, adding that her own understandings were deepened as well. “Every time that I hear Johonna and Jon speak about RJ, I learn something new and am able to delve deeper into my own thought process that surrounds restorative justice.”
Poplett hopes the enthusiasm for educating the campus community grows after this first endeavor. The 24 participants, a critical mass of new advocates, is a key indicator that the campus community is interested and willing to engage, she says. “I think getting people excited and educated is the first step towards a more comprehensive implementation of RJ here on campus. ”
As part of her graduate practicum in spring semester 2018, Waters-Crittenton is working with Swartz on plans for more trainings and activities to engage the EMU campus community.
Creative Initiatives grants
CJP’s annual Creative Initiatives grant competition, open to all CJP graduate students, encourages collaboration and innovation around community engagement and arts in peacebuilding. Poplett’s project won the community engagement category of the 2018 contest, while a team of students planning a playback theater and arts day for area high school students who are immigrants and refugees won the arts in peacebuilding category. This event hasn’t yet occurred because of weather-related rescheduling.