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University continues efforts to incorporate transformative justice practices

Pilot program to build community, cultivate discourse among first-year students

By
Staff Writer
Friday, September 6, 2019

This fall, 15 to 20 first-year students will have the opportunity to engage in conversations about structural violence, community accountability and transformative justice in a new pilot program called Building Transformational Community.

The program falls within the University’s Community Dialogue Project, which launched last year. CDP aims to “help students foster intentional community and navigate conflict in their everyday lives,” wrote Marc Peters, assistant director for community dialogue and campus engagement, in an email to The Herald.

The BTC program will consist of weekly 90-minute sessions over the course of nine weeks. By having students discuss concepts such as structural violence and community accountability, the program aims to help them cultivate empathetic communication skills, radical self-love and caring communities.

The program will use small group work, large group discussions, reflective exercises, media, readings and presentations to facilitate these conversations, wrote Zoe Kupetz ’22, the lead author of the BTC curriculum, in an email to The Herald.

“Students come to (the University) with diverse backgrounds and life experiences,” Kupetz wrote. “If we, as a campus, do not commit ourselves to the difficult work of interrogating hierarchies of power and privilege (and) critically reflecting on our participation within harmful structures, … we will continue to replicate the oppressive systems that plague U.S. society and the world at large within our own communities on campus.”

The program will have a strong focus on transformative justice, a form of conflict resolution that does not use punishments such as disciplinary measures and sanctions. Through this focus, Peters wrote, the program will support students in “maintaining community in times of conflict, and engaging in healing practices when harm occurs.”

To further support transformative justice practices, the University hired Dara Bayer ’08 over the summer to be a Transformative Justice Program Coordinator on campus. “I see the (BTC) pilot program as an inherent part of the transformative justice program,” Bayer wrote in an email to The Herald. “The goals of the (BTC) program support the conditions that allow for community accountability processes to take place when there is harm.”

“Transformative Justice is often only understood as a framework that focuses on responding to harm, but (in the pilot curriculum) it also exists as a set of values that guide a community’s way of being at all times,” Bayer added.

Bayer hopes that students who go through the pilot program will gain the skill sets needed to be transformative justice practitioners, who can respond to harm in their communities without using the legal system or punitive institutional frameworks.

“I have every confidence in the content that our student staff developed and am hopeful that the program will be successful,” Peters wrote. “I am more excited for the potential of the Building Transformational Community pilot program than I have been for maybe anything I’ve been involved with during my time at Brown,” he added.