It can be tempting to think about restorative practices as something that we do. More broadly, restorative justice is about how we are in relationship with one another — as individuals, yes, but also as institutions.
At a university, this can include addressing conduct violations, but also community building and classroom environment. Dr. David Karp and Christian Santa Maria are putting restorative practices to work on their Catholic college campus in each of these situations.
In this episode, they share how restorative practices are taking shape at the University of San Diego in alignment with their university’s mission and Catholic identity.
Greetings, and welcome to Encounters With Dignity.
In this podcast from Catholic Mobilizing Network, we bring you stories, learnings, and actionable wisdom from people who are putting restorative justice into practice.
I’m Caitlin Morneau, your host for this podcast and CMN’s Director of Restorative Justice.
In this episode of Encounters with Dignity, we’ll hear from two dynamic leaders who are bringing restorative justice to life on one Catholic university campus.
Dr. David Karp is a professor and director of the Center for Restorative Justice at the University of San Diego or USD for short. He’s a leading national author and trainer in restorative practices in higher education. We at CMN are doubly grateful for his research on Victim-Based Perspectives on the Death Penalty.
Christian Santa Maria serves as the Director of University Ministry at USD. Having served at four different Catholic universities throughout his career, Christian is committed to creating spaces around the world for students to engage in contemplation informed by Catholic Social Tradition.marks come to us from CMN’s:
If you’ve been following this podcast, you know that we often discuss restorative justice as a response to crime that focuses on healing rather than punishment. But harm, that is to say, violations of human dignity and relationships, can happen anywhere and take many different forms.
David and Christian will share about how restorative practices have taken shape on their campus. They will also illuminate how aligning these practices with institutional mission and Catholic identity is integral to their success.
Let’s hear from David first…
So I want to talk about, what does it mean for a campus to become a restorative university and talk about the work at the University of San Diego as an example of that. And I know many people are not attached to a campus and so maybe wondering why would this be relevant to me? And I think it's important for us to think about the next stage in the restorative justice journey, which is really about institutionalization. How do we embed these ideas more fully into organizations like universities or K-12 schools or the criminal justice system, wherever it may be.
So when I think about what does it mean for a campus to be a restorative university first and foremost, what I'm thinking about is that it's a place for exploration, that is of course what campuses are all about for students to explore new ideas, for faculty to explore new ideas. And so campuses become guideposts for the larger society, places of experimentation and new ideas. And there are three areas for this in terms of restorative justice. One is the campus itself behaving like a restorative community, meaning how we treat each other, the research that's done on campuses and the courses that get taught.
So the building blocks here that I want to talk about are institutional mission, academic affairs, which is the part of the university that has everything to do with faculty and classes and what gets taught and student affairs, which has everything to do on campus with the life of students outside the classroom, where they sleep, what they eat, the programs and organizations and clubs and teams that they belong to. So, there's a lot of restorative work to be done on all of these fronts. So we will begin by talking about institutional mission.
So USD is a Roman Catholic institution committed to advancing academic excellence, expanding liberal and professional knowledge, creating a diverse and inclusive community, preparing leaders dedicated to ethical conduct and compassionate service. And it sets the standard for an engaged contemporary Catholic university where innovative change makers confront humanity's urgent challenges.
Nowhere in this statement is the phrase restorative justice, but I think you can see a lot of potential connections. I asked in a survey a couple of years ago, administrators on Catholic campuses – we had 104 respond representing 69 different Catholic campuses – straight up I asked them how much did they think RJ aligns with their school's mission? Nobody said that it was not aligned, so that's good. And then some 20 odd percent said, they believe that their missions were somewhat aligned with RJ and a happily 70 some odd percent said that they thought their missions were very aligned. So, that's cool. That's an important starting place that there isn't a philosophical opposition.
I want to turn our attention to student affairs and think about some ways that restorative justice has manifested in the life of students. So we like to think of USD as a laboratory for piloting RJ initiatives. And these can be piloted in these two major arenas, community building and responding to harm. So there's ongoing community building on the college campus cause a quarter of the campus turns over every year. And so we're orienting a new group all of the time. Building communities, whether it's on a floor or on a team or in a club.
And then of course there's harm that is done either it's a result of the general campus climate or a particular incidents of misconduct. And then of course people come back if they have been suspended, for example, and how do we receive them restoratively. I want to give a couple of examples. So last year we piloted what we call the Alcohol Harm Impact Circles, so these were for students who had first time alcohol violations, of course the drinking age is 21 and students arrive at USD at age 18. So it's almost inevitable that maybe even by the second night on campus they might have gotten themselves in trouble on this front.
Rather than take a punitive approach we used restorative circles to engage the students in a community building effort to help them think about what is USD all about? Where is their place in the community? How could they be meaningful, positive contributing members to the community? So rather than focus on in this case, what they're doing wrong, we were really inviting them to think about what they could do right. So this was no small effort 75 students participated in 20 circles, which meant training lots of facilitators for this.
We were faced this summer with trying to orient 1,600 new students for the fall semester. And we had to orient them online and create a sense of community even if they were not coming to campus and living their college life online. Each of those students were invited to participate in a series of circles. So they got to know their group of students pretty well over these three circle times. With this many students, we had to train a lot of facilitators, 80 of them. So this is no small undertaking when you think about really using restorative practice for an entire community.
Okay, so enough about students. I want to think about faculty for a moment.
Not only are faculty doing research, but they're teaching and so when we think about teaching, there are a couple of important arenas to consider. First is pedagogy. So not what they're teaching, but how they're teaching and how they might be building a restorative classroom. So we are really innovating in terms of using restorative practices in the classroom to engage students in meaningful dialogues about whatever topics they may be studying. Then of course there are courses taught about restorative justice. I keep seeing more and more variation.
And finally, we think about how widespread restorative justice is becoming K-12 schools, but rarely do we ask what new teachers are taught in colleges of education. Right now I have colleagues that are very enthusiastic about restorative justice down the hall in our college of education here at USD, but they tell me there is no room in the student's curriculum for restorative justice courses or for their students to take our certificate. This is tragic and needs to change because philosophically they're not opposed. They are enthusiastic but integrating or changing or altering curriculum is a huge undertaking.
And I just wanted to close on this note. I borrowed a quote from our colleague Lindsay Pointer.
And she says, "A restorative university intentionally fosters positive relationships between community members founded on respect, equality and open communication. This includes implementing both reactive measures, including restorative justice as a response to conflicts and rule violations and proactive measures, including the circle process as a way to build a positive culture rooted in restorative principles." I think that's a great way to close and to acknowledge that in many ways, the good work and hard work is ahead, not just coming up with new ideas, but figuring out how to make them last.
It can be tempting to think about restorative justice as something that we “do”. I appreciate how Dr. Karp emphasizes that more broadly, restorative justice is about how we are with one another — as individuals, yes, but also as institutions — whether a university, k-12 school, parish, or organization.
In a moment, Christian will expand on how he experiences restorative justice as an expression of Catholic imagination, especially when it comes to navigating complex relationships and realities.
As you listen, I invite you to consider…
How do you see the alignment between restorative justice and your vocational or ministerial mission?
What God-given gifts and talents animate your pursuit of restorative justice?
How are you invited to imagine healing solutions when bearing witness to suffering?
Christian Santa Maria
My name is Christian Santa Maria. I’ve been a campus minister now for about 11 years, and what brought me to restorative justice actually was a question I brought into grad school about what really is forgiveness and what really is reconciliation and what does that actually look like in terms of accompanying students and accompanying a community when harm is done?
And so that led me to kind of looking at restorative justice. And for me, the application of how that fits into a ministerial practice, particularly in college higher ed.
I think our vision statement is what's most talked about here at USD, which reads this that we are that we set the standard for an engaged, contemporary Catholic university, where innovative changemakers confront humanity's urgent challenges. And I think that phrase “change makers confronting humanity's urgent challenges” really animates the work here at USD.
What I'm drawn to in this statement is the word confront. It sounds kind of it can be kind of somewhat abrasive. What do you mean by confront? When I hear that word, I think of a word that it calls us to transform – rooted much like in Vatican II that that we as a Catholic institution isn't like the ship that's going to provide salvation.
But we are called as people to enter into the world to confront these needs and hopefully manage or alleviate some of these challenges. And if that's true, what I think is helpful is that the spiritual tradition of the Catholic faith invites us to recognize that for any transformation to happen, space is necessary, a space for that transformation to occur.
And I think this is where there's alignment between restorative justice and Catholic institutions. There's always this push for students to engage and to go out into the world. But what's helpful and I think what makes Catholic education distinct is the means and the way in which that approach takes place.
And I think the desire of the Catholic spiritual tradition to form students in this way and the practices of restorative justice really allow these things, two things to be aligned together. In particular, how this looks here at USD, we just finished our synod listening sessions in which a lot of really difficult experiences of the church came to the fore.
In fact, after listening to some of those responses, one of humanity's urgent challenges is the church. How do we navigate this? How does it become a place again that is alive and life giving to many people? And we found that the process of restorative justice not only allows people to name the challenges that they face or the hurt that they experience with the church.
But all of them in one way or another recorded some sense of hope that this could even happen, that the church could actually be a place that is life giving simply by giving space to the reality of where hurts and healing is necessary.
One thing I would say about restorative justice and the ways it aligns with the Catholic mission and particularly the university's role within society. It's an understanding of how RJ can be a contemplative practice. And I want to define some pieces here. There's a lot of racial injustice and there's violence that's happening in our world today.
People are getting hurt. People are getting further marginalized, what have you. And to think that the need is to contemplate can sometimes be a kind of a jarring idea. Maybe it's there's an assumption that it means that we're not going to do anything, that we're going to think about things longer or that it might be otherworldly, or if it's a particular praxis for people who are pretty pious or particularly religious.
But there's a really great definition of contemplation by a priest. And Walter Burkhart from Georgetown, who talks about contemplation as a long and loving look at the real. And I think that's a very helpful understanding of contemplation and why restorative justice is helpful for us in Catholic universities. To understand how the Catholic spiritual tradition might inform our response to the complexity of the world is that restorative justice creates the space for transformation?
Yes. For recognizing wrongs, yes. But it is inherently a contemplative one. It is one that is creating and recognizing that people aren't, you know, the worst thing that they've ever done. And we're taking a long and loving look at their story – the stories of those who've been affected, the story of the community that has had to hold this.
It's a loving response to something that can easily be responded to with a knee jerk reaction of retributive justice or some sort of punishment. We're actually creating the space with restorative justice between a stimulus and response to actually understand the complexity of people's stories. Goodness, if there isn't a need for that in our world today, if there isn't a need for that in our own spiritual lives today, this kind of contemplative response. What I think restorative justice provides is, a socially contemplative response, not necessarily a personal one, that actually does address the needs that we have, while not moving so quickly to easier responses that might not necessarily lead toward justice.
When I think of Catholic imagination, I think I have to somewhat create some distinction. What do what do we mean by imagination? Are we talking a fantasy like every time and dragons and things like that?
What is imagination? Sharon Parks has a great definition and I'm paraphrasing here. It's the ability to conceive what could actually happen – an ability to conceive what could happen in reality. So when we talk about a Catholic imagination, it's this freedom to really consider, given the abundant love and grace of God, what could actually happen.
And so, when you think of restorative justice and you think of a term like mercy, it requires imagination. A definition of mercy that's helpful for me: the willingness to enter into the chaos of another. Goodness. If I don't come into that with imagination, with the ability to recognize that someone's worst day isn’t their definition, but to enter into the chaos of that person, to understand their story, what has led them to the decisions, what past hurts they might be experiencing or have felt in the past.
Goodness, it requires us to conceive something beyond just the surface that we're seeing in a person's actions or a community's actions to actually look at what's underneath that. In addition to why imagination is helpful and why it's necessary for restorative justice and its alignment with Catholic imagination, I think that's what we need. When I think of why restorative justice might have come to surface is because there was an imagination of thinking that there's got to be a better way than just punishing people more. Because that doesn't seem to be working.its in El Salvador during the:
Last piece why I think this is important. I think there's a lot of work and I'm going to use a word here of sharing the source of our joy: evangelization. Sharing the source of the joy of what it means to be a Catholic institution is to start doing some of those things that actually allow people to recognize like, oh, wow, that is a that I recognize that as a Catholic university.
That's a place of healing. That's a place where that container is being built. I think it would do as well as institutions to be a location in which honesty and truth become the doorway to healing and forgiveness. What an impact.
What an impact indeed. And what a beautiful invitation to dream together.
We’ve touched on some big ideas here… imagination, contemplation, holding complexity, Christian mission and identity.
There’s a story from Luke’s Gospel that I think helps thread these themes together. Before Jesus healed a great multitude of people, he spent the night in prayer. I envision Jesus on the mountain top, in the presence of our ever merciful God, taking a long, loving look at the depth of suffering in his midst.
I imagine that in this quiet contemplation, it was revealed how the ministry of healing requires a trusted community. So, Jesus named his apostles, entrusted them with their shared mission, and together, they encountered the crowd of people who were suffering and afflicted.
Jesus shows us how to seek healing in order to be in right-relationship with God, one another and all of creation. In our time, restorative practices offer a way to uphold human dignity and promote the common good.
Thank you David and Christian for sharing about how you bring this vision to life with your campus community.
If you enjoyed this episode of Encounters With Dignity, make sure to subscribe to our show from your favorite podcast platform, or by visiting catholicsmobilizing.org/encounterswithdignity. For podcast updates and other news from Catholic Mobilizing Network, follow us on social media or sign up for our emails at catholicsmobilizing.org/join.
Feeling ready to engage more deeply with restorative practices? Then check out “Paths of Renewed Encounter,” CMN’s restorative justice engagement guide for Catholic communities. Get it at catholicsmobilizing.org/paths.
Join us next month, when we’ll bring together a variety of perspectives on living restoratively in everyday life.
Let us close in prayer with these words from Pope Francis in Fratelli Tutti.
Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all. Amen.