At the University of Vermont, we have been incorporated Restorative Practices (RP) into the framework of how we build community in the residence halls and how we build, maintain, and repair relationships with our undergraduate students and among our professional staff since fall of 2009. As we approach the tenth anniversary of our adoption of restorative practices into our residence life department, this is an excellent time to reflect on the impact that it has had on our residential communities and with our RAs.
Some of you might be asking “But what exactly are Restorative Practices?” Restorative Practices is a social science that looks at how individuals strengthen relationships with others as well as the relationships within communities.
Restorative Practices has roots in practices from cultures around the world, most notably the use of circles to bring people together. Many indigenous cultures have brought communities together in circles to talk about community business, make decisions, and address misconduct of community members. Today, we can see the use of RP in primary and secondary schools as an effective classroom engagement tool (McCluskey, Lloyd, Stead, Kane, Riddell, & Weedon, 2008). Also, some of your institutions may be using Restorative Justice, which is under the umbrella of RP according to the International Institute of Restorative Practices, in student conduct (Karp, 2013).
Since 2009, UVM Residential Life has used RP as part of the framework of building communities within the Residence Halls. Without giving too much away from our presentation, each year we train our professional and undergraduate staff in Restorative Practices and dive into the framework. Our training is designed to get us thinking about how we lead in various our roles, develop trust with others through engaging them in decision-making practices, how we understand and manage our emotions and the emotions of others, and how to we come together in a variety of different ways.
As many of us who work in Housing and Residence Life can attest to, our roles can be challenging, including our RA’s roles. Our students have numerous reasons for wanting to become an RA—financial, personal, resume builder, etc. Often, they become RAs because they want to build a sense of connection with others and build a community within the residence halls. They often have the challenge of the duality of their roles: being a student and peer versus being an authority figure within their communities. “Residential Life staff members would often tell RAs to build community, but they struggled to explicitly show them how” (Miller & Wachtel, 2012). To learn more about how the University of Vermont came to discover Restorative Practices as a framework, we encourage you to read Building Campus Community: Restorative Practices in Residential Life, A Handbook for Resident Advisors by Joshua and Ted Wachtel.
Today, our RAs and our Residential Life staff use restorative practices in almost every facet of how we engage as a staff. From first-year community circles with our residents to circling up our professional staff to engage in fair process during decision making, from building relationships with within our team proactively to bring staff together to repair harm when there is an impact on the relationships among staff, RP has truly transformed the way we view relationship building in a professional context. We are truly excited to go deeper and share more about how we incorporate restorative practices in residential life at ACPA!
We hope you’ll join us for our presentation Restorative RAs: Using Restorative Practices in Residential Life on March 5, 2019, where we will delve more into how we trained our RAs in the use of RP!
Karp, D. R. (2013, Forthcoming). The little book of restorative justice for colleges and universities: Repairing harm and rebuilding trust in response to student misconduct. Intercourse, PA: Good Books.
McCluskey, G., Lloyd, G., Stead, J., Kane, J., Riddell, S., & Weedon, E. (2008). ‘I was dead restorative today’: From restorative justice to restorative approaches in school. Cambridge Journal of Education, 38(2), 199-216. doi: 10.1080/03057640802063262
Miller, S. & Wachtel, T. (2012). Looking for the magic. In J. Wachtel & T. Wachtel (eds.), Building Campus Community: Restorative Practices in Residential Life, A Handbook for Resident Advisors (pp. 1-12). Bethlehem, PA: International Institute for Restorative Practices.