Even under the best of circumstances, living in a Residence Hall is a difficult undertaking. The Residence Hall: a unique environment where nearly everyone is in young adulthood (except for a few student-affairs professionals, and staff who live on campus), devoid of children, middle-aged adults and the elderly, and with the exception of small fish, any animals. Yet new students enthusiastically embrace this artificial reality because their goal is simple. They want to escape parents, family members and any kind of adult supervision in their quest for independence and adulthood.
For those who have already experienced university life are painfully aware that, without the right support systems, Residence Hall living can be a recipe for disaster. Why? Because people who are in youthful stages of their emotional, mental and social development often behave in ways that are not socially responsible, civil or respectful—of themselves or others. To envision how easily civilization can turn into chaos when the young are left to their own devices, one only has to remember the boys who devolved into savagery in William Golding’s classic novel Lord of the Flies.
Every year our university’s Residence Halls open their doors to hundreds of new students who will occupy shared-living settings with a population density more concentrated than most urban residential buildings. With the exception of a few encounters at orientation or Facebook exchanges, most of these students don’t know each-other. Nor have most of them ever lived away from their families, except for perhaps a customary summer camp excursion. More and more students are entering university have never shared a bedroom with a sibling, and in some instances have never even shared a bathroom. Outside of directed social group activities or participation on a sports team, most have not had to live or work cooperatively with members of their peer group.
Some students have problems with alcohol and drug use. Others are boisterous, noisy, messy or rude. Some struggle with personal relationships, mental health issues, or hold racial and religious biases that interfere with their ability to connect with others. Others come with even more serious problems, such as a history of stealing or violence that is not disclosed which eventually manifests itself in the close quarters of residential living.
In some ways, residential hall living and the students who occupy these spaces are just a microcosm of the larger world, but with the inherent behaviors and characteristics of youth. Soon after their arrival on campus, new students face the demands and stresses of their academic programs—classes, assignments, exams, and papers—and tensions and conflicts with their roommates and friends. These are the circumstances that, every year, frame the fundamental challenge faced by the residential life staff at universities—how to build healthy communities quickly and effectively so that students can live together productively and harmoniously.
I wish I had a “magic potion” that when dispensed, would enable students in the residence halls to, at a minimum, allow students to get along with each-other. Since this isn’t Hogwarts and no such tincture exists, we must settle for the theoretical model known as “community standards.”
The community standards allow students to utilize a mutually agreed-upon expectation that define how their community will engage and function on an interpersonal level. The model relies on a dialogue to create and maintain standard because peer-to-peer interaction, according to Astin in “What matters in College,” has been found to be the single most potent source of influence on growth and development during the undergraduate years; and the simple act of sharing feeling scan influence and change peer perspectives and behaviors.
With the use of community standards, theoretically, staff members are no longer expected to control but rather guide the community towards individual and group responsibility and accountability.
What sounds great in theory is difficult to implement in practice. On Monday, September 29 I had the pleasure of serving as a guest Lecturer in the Conflict Transformation Models and Practice (CST 310) course here at LCC International University where I shared about the discipline process at our school. We discussed the historical context for LCC’s shift from a judicial approach to discipline, to one of Restorative Justice. I introduced the E.P.I.C. Journey approach to student conduct, compare and contrasted inactive vs. active restoration process, discussed our integration and defined the new mentoring program.
|Explaining the practical application of Restorative Justice on LCC's Campus to the students of the Conflict Transformation Models and Practice (CST 310) class.|
The last year of research, reflection and networking brought us to the point of change at the beginning of this school year. The previous model used fines and implemented tasks, often unrelated to the violation, to ‘right’ the broken rule. This not only didn’t teach the students anything about themselves or the reason for our standard, but it separated the ‘haves’ (those who could afford such fines) from the have-nots’ (less-fortunate students who would in turn go hungry because they had made a mistake and broken the rules).
I pray that in this school year, we can reach towards what Zehr described in The Little Book of Restorative Justice: “Restorative justice is a process to involve, to the extent possible, those who have a stake in a specific offense and to collectively identify and address harms, needs, and obligations, in order to heal and put things right as possible” (Zehr, 37). Let us heal and put things as right as possible.