The Pendle Hill staff was happy to have hosted Haverford’s leadership retreat because they witnessed the rare occurrence of a group of students smiling as they entered their halls, genuinely asking “how are you” to the hosts and residents. This was one of many reminders throughout the day of what it meant to be a Haverford student. One of the most often repeated ones at the retreat was that only Haverford students would spend their last day of break at a series of workshops on restorative justice, that we would engage with a panel of mediators in order to learn from them and that we would continue the conversations started at Pendle Hill even when we settled into our dorms.
One of the first activities we engaged in was to write about ourselves on strips of paper and link everyone’s strips into a chain. The finished chain was laid down in the middle of the room, serving as the physical manifestation of our thoughts at the beginning of the retreat. Following this brief moment, we transitioned into a panel discussion, concerning the history, challenges and prospects of the fields of restorative justice and mediation. Following a lunch break, we began to discuss conflict mediation techniques and closed the day off with a final question-answer discussion. Throughout this entire process, the chain still lay on the floor, forcing students to reflect on who they were several hours earlier and what condition they were leaving in.
Restorative justice was described as a perspective that looks at crime through an uncommon lens. Instead of categorizing people as victims and offenders, the restorative justice process attempts to engage parties involved in an incident to meet each others needs. Instead of valuing laws and technicalities, restorative justice values trust, community and respect. I soon began to realize why Haverford chose this subject as the topic of its retreat.
I couldn’t help but relate some of the material we were learning about new forms of mediation to what I had been taught about the criminal justice system. I couldn’t help but reflect on how frustrating it must be for reform advocates to have to deal with an apathetic and complacent society. While flaws in our criminal justice system appear well publicized throughout the media, the lack of an advertised alternative seems to pull people towards pessimism. Moreover, I believe the process for getting reform through bureaucracy is not well known; the height of people’s known political action is a vote on a ballot. I can only hope that people stop feeling obliged to simplified and inefficient systems of justice and begin to move towards more effective ones.