Toward Civic Engagement: Integrating Restorative Practices Into Residential Education Plans

5 lessons learned from embracing restorative practices in our residential curriculum

In 2016, Residential Life at UMBC began shifting focus to embrace a learning-centered curricular approach. At the same time, we had been working closely with colleagues in student conduct to introduce our campus community to restorative practices. While these two projects were similar, in some ways they moved forward on parallel tracks, it took us two years to recognize their potential as a singular approach.

1. Restorative work in higher education should be more than harm response

The process of integrating a restorative philosophy with a curricular one proved to be a more challenging, engaging, and rewarding experience than anticipated. One important challenge we needed to tackle was shifting our thinking from restorative practices as a strategy for responding to harm, to a proactive strategy for relationship building.

Restorative justice has gained momentum in higher education as leaders in our field such as David Karp at Skidmore College have helped us to understand restorative work as an innovative way of approaching student development in our student conduct departments (Karp, 2015; Karp and Sack, 2014). As we began implementing restorative practices at UMBC, we realized that this work, and the tools we use, aren’t as effective if we aren’t building relationships and community before we attempt to respond to harm.

Our thinking is informed by the work of Belinda Hopkins, who encourages utilizing the values of restorative justice to build relationships and trust within groups (Hopkins, 2015; Braithwaite and Strang). We also keep in mind a recommendation from the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP) that restorative practitioners should spend 80% of their time community building and doing proactive work (Wachtel, Wachtel and Miller, 2012).

Shifting our thinking from response to a proactive and responsive approach made sense to us. And as a result, we found applications beyond student conduct and residential life, such as in athletics, student organizations, alternative spring break, and civic engagement. We saw momentum growing, but in order to combine this idea with our curriculum, we needed to research outside of higher education for applications of proactive restorative practices.

2. People learn better in community

As student affairs professionals, we know that students are more prepared to learn when they are in strong communities (Hill, 2002; Rovai, 2002). Still, it took us time to realize that we were limiting the potential for learning in the residence halls by keeping restorative practices separate from the curriculum.

As we began training our student staff on the applications of restorative practices to their communities, followed by trainings on the curriculum, it dawned on us that restorative practices is not exclusive to our role as administrators, to RAs in their role as student leaders, or even the conduct process, where it originated. Restorative practices is a methodology for building strong communities and engaging community members in collaborative learning.  

As we considered the implications of combining restorative tools and philosophy with our residential curriculum, we began looking for applications of restorative practices and values outside of harm response, and outside of higher education. We read important work on leadership based on restorative principles like fair (Kim and Mauborgne,2003), restorative culture in work environments leading to more productivity (Hopkins, 2015), restorative classrooms in K-12 leading to (Riestenberg, 2000), and the community-oriented skills students need in the 21st century (Musil, 2012).

With these examples in mind, we began to see the powerful potential of transforming these two initiatives to one restorative residential curriculum as the way to prepare students for living and learning in the 21st century.

…the competencies basic to democracy, especially to a diverse democracy like ours, cannot be learned only by studying books; democratic knowledge and capabilities are honed through hands‐on, face‐to‐face, active engagement in the midst of differing perspectives about how to address common problems that affect the well‐being of the nation and the world…Civic learning should prepare students with knowledge and for action in our communities and at their workplaces.”
-A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future (From: How the National Report Has Spurred Action 2012–2016)


If our students are more prepared to learn when they have good relationships, then we can use restorative practices to teach our students how to be in community and provide them with a platform for learning.

3. Restorative Practices is also more than a set of tools.

Another important realization came when we stopped talking about the tools of restorative practices as if they are separate from a restorative mindset. Our restorative approach is a set of guiding principles (not a program or specific activity) that values relationships as central to learning and student development. It is infused in the way we view leadership, selection, decision-making, conduct, crisis management, etc. Our five guiding principles are:

  1. Lead with others, not to or for them
  2. Prioritize connection before content
  3. Promote responsibility by balancing high accountability with high support
  4. Use fair process to make inclusive decisions
  5. Value community, which requires commitment and community standards.

4. The philosophy of restorative practices helps us to center our work within a social justice framework.

Restorative practices is about equity, social justice, establishing trusting relationships across differences, and inclusive decision-making. Embracing the restorative practice concept of fair process allowed us to dive deeper into difficult conversations about how we involve students in the decisions that affect them; how students, staff and others experience systems of higher education; and how we advocate for social justice in our work.

We have found that this approach allows us to be both educators and co-creators of community and the student experience. We are starting to realize that if we want to reach outcomes around community engagement, social justice, civic engagement, and global citizenship, we may need to radically rethink our approach to learning and community within residential environments.

5. Restorative practices is the way to prepare students for living and learning in the 21st century. Ultimately, this journey has caused us to think very differently about our curriculum, our educational priority, and the way that we approach working with students within our residential communities.

This year, we officially dissolved both our curriculum planning committee and our departmental restorative practices committee to create one powerful movement. And it’s working.

Want to hear more or to learn about restorative practices? Join us to discuss restorative practices within curricular initiatives at the ACPA19 Convention. We anticipate hearing your feedback and thoughts!


Hopkins, B. (2015). From restorative justice to restorative culture. Revista de Asistenta
Sociala, 14(4), 19-34.

Karp, D. Little Book of Restorative Justice for Colleges & Universities: Revised &
Updated. Simon and Schuster, 2015.

Karp, D., and Sacks, C.. “Student conduct, restorative justice, and student
development: Findings from the STARR project: A student accountability and
restorative research project.” Contemporary Justice Review 17.2 (2014): 154-172.

Kim, C., & Mauborgne, R. A. (2003, January). Fair process: Managing in the knowledge
economy. Harvard Business Review, 127-136.

Musil, C. (2012). A crucible moment: College learning and democracy’s future. Washington,
DC, 15.

Riestenberg, N. (2000). Restorative Schools. Conciliation Quarterly, 19, 2, 6‐7.

Wachtel, J., Wachtel, T., & Miller, S. (2012). Building campus community: Restorative
practices in residential life. Bethlehem, PA: International Institute for Restorative Practices.


About the Presenters:

Kaleigh Mrowka currently serves as an Assistant Director for Residential Education at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. In her role, she oversees residential areas for first and second year students and co-coordinates the restorative residential curriculum. Prior to her current role at UMBC, Kaleigh worked to develop and coordinate the Learning Community program at Saint Louis University. She holds a B.A. in Speech Communication from Ithaca College, a M.S. in Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration from SUNY Buffalo State, and is currently completing a Ph.D in Language, Literacy, and Culture at UMBC. Her professional and research interests center around the development and maintenance of healthy communities through the use of restorative practices, integrative learning, and intergroup dialogue. She has presented widely about living-learning programs and the integration of restorative practices into residential communities within higher education


Lauren Teresa Mauriello is the Assistant Director for Residential Student Conduct at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County where she has worked since 2013. Lauren oversees residential student conduct and residential assessment initiatives. Prior to 2013, Lauren worked in residential life and student conduct at George Mason University and James Madison University. Lauren is completing a Ph.D. in Public Policy, specializing in Education Policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Her research interests include restorative practices in higher education, high school settings, and community settings. In practice Lauren is committed to the implementation of restorative practices to support the development of community and learning in higher education. At UMBC, she is a part of a team implementing campus-wide restorative initiatives, co-developing a restorative residential curriculum model with residential life colleagues, and serves as a first year experience faculty working with students on conflict resolution skill building. Lauren is also a licensed trainer through the International Institute of Restorative Practices (IIRP), and has presented locally, nationally, and internationally on the use of restorative practices in higher education and residential life communities.


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