In this conversation, Matt Tibbles shares moving personal stories that actualize both his learning journey and the important peacebuilding ideas he studies, practices and teaches – drawing from experiences as a youth pastor and a juvenile detention officer, in education and prevention for a domestic violence and sexual assault shelter, and from among his students in classrooms at EMU.
A 2018 graduate of Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, Tibbles is an organizational development and conflict transformation professional with experience working in and with multi-ethnic for-profit businesses, higher education, nonprofit organizations, and indigenous tribes. He balances teaching at EMU with consultancy work among organizations and school districts, focusing on co-creating dignity and honoring trauma-informed and restorative organizational cultures.
Tibbles brings these experiences into the courses he teaches to undergraduates in the peacebuilding and development program and the sociology program. He also teaches graduate courses at CJP.
Tibbles begins by describing a pivotal experience of de-escalating conflict while working as a youth pastor in the Pacific Northwest. Witnessing the effect of trauma on the child involved pushed him to explore the concept more fully in the youth group he worked with at the church. Later in Alaska, he worked at a juvenile detention facility where he encountered trauma-informed care and practices. Night shifts there allowed for deeper exploration of restorative justice, especially through webinars offered by the Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice and readings of The Little Book of Restorative Justice by Howard Zehr (Good Books, 2002).
There, Tibbles began to ask different and probing questions about the behavior of the teens he worked with: One guiding question was “In what reality does this behavior make sense?” Viewing those behaviors through a trauma lens, as responses to trauma, helped him and others he worked with see how daily protocols and practices could raise fear and anxiety. For example, walking directly behind a teen in transition between activities triggered a stress reaction, but shifting slightly into her peripheral vision was a much less threatening position.
While our default approach might be “blaming and judging,” asking questions about why behavior might be happening “allowed us to see a much bigger, broader picture of what was going on,” Tibbles said.
After studies at CJP, he’s worked to integrate restorative justice and trauma-informed pedagogy within the larger university community with a ripple effect as students across the disciplines see the potential and benefits to bring those principles into various settings.
“When we’re able to create trauma-informed and resilient systems, my hope is, and I’m seeing it a little bit from students that have graduated, or even students that have transferred out of EMU into another university or college, is that they’re taking these experiences of being trauma-informed and resilient into their own communities into wherever they’re going,” he said. “And they’re beginning, in small ways, to shift systems that haven’t been trauma informed, or, or haven’t focused on resilience into systems that are beginning to explore just even a little bit of what that means and how it [can be] transformative.”
Matt Tibbles is an organizational development and conflict transformation professional with experience working in multi-ethnic for-profit businesses, higher education, non-profit organizations, and indigenous tribes in developing and implementing organizational development strategies with a specialization in trauma-informed and resilient-based strategies/practices. He currently serves as an instructor at Eastern Mennonite University in the Peacebuilding & Development Program, Sociology Program, and the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. He also consults with organizations and school districts in co-creating dignity honoring trauma-informed and restorative organizational cultures.
He lives in Harrisonburg, VA with his family. He is a husband to Julie Tibbles and a father to Reese and Kellyn Tibbles. He enjoys woodworking, soccer, basketball, and living a contemplative Christian faith.