by Lynda Jones
Marquette University Law School’s Restorative Justice Initiative recently hosted a conference entitled “Bullying in Schools: Teaching Respect and Compassion Through Restorative Practices,” at the Alumni Memorial Union.
The conference featured local speakers, such as Mayor Barrett, MPS superintendent William Andrekopoulos, and Milwaukee Disrict Attorney, John Chisholm. The keynote speaker for the morning was Dr. Brenda Morrison, co-director of the Centre for Restorative Justice and assistant professor, School of Criminology Simon Fraser Univerisity, of Bristish Columbia.
This was the law school’s 6th Restorative Justice Conference. The day long event also featured breakout sessions that addressed such topics as: Cyberbullying and Social Interaction with Technology- How to talk to your child; Legal Consequences of Bullying; What is a Restorative Justice Circle?; Impact of Violence on Learning; And How MPS is using Circles to deal with the Bullying Issues.
One of the most impactful discussions that came from the conference was a three student panel from Custer High School, Kenyonna Glass, an 11th grader, Shanique Harvey, a senior and Lavonte King, a freshman.
All three shared their own personal experiences with bullying. Two had been victims of bullying, and one felt that they may had been perceived as a bullying from having a strong personality. The students demonstrated from their own personal experiences, that the issue is real, and often difficult to handle. They even expressed finding it difficult to seek help. One panelist even shared that it was difficult to even tell their parent about being bullied, even after it had reached the level of being physical.
“What about your teacher?” The answer was, the teacher doesn’t want to get involved. And in some instances it may be due to fear. But if the teacher is afraid, where does the student go? “What about the police officers present in schools?” Custer HIgh School is one of the schools that has the police officer presence. The answer to this question was, that the officers and students do not really relate to one another unless their is some sort of physical incident. One officer who was a conference attendee shared that some officers needed more training when placed in the schools, in order to create a better relationship with the students. “We cannot just be there waiting for something to happen?” he shared.
For those not familiar with the Restorative Justice concept, it is an emerging social science that enables people to restore and build community inan increasingly disconnect world. Restorative practices in schools can help schools build a positive school community while dramatically reducing discipline referrals, detentions and suspensions.
Punitive strategies involve control only (discipline, limitsetting). Punitive measures do things to students but do not necessarily reduce misbehavior by internalizing within students an alternative, more appropriate behavior. Punishmentoften instills anger, fear and shame within students. These emotions rarely become fully resolved. Thus, punishment can generate a cycle of alienation and exclusion which often drives future misbehavior.