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Restorative Justice

Restorative justice is a philosophy and theory rooted in Indigenous teachings that emphasizes community building, repairing harm and community reintegration as foundational principles of justice. Valuing connectedness, restorative justice emphasizes the importance of building and maintaining trusted and equitable relationships.

What are Restorative Practices?

Restorative practices are how we “do” restorative justice. Restorative practices is an umbrella term that covers many different forms of implementing restorative justice. This includes: community building circles, peace circles, healing circles, conferencing, and restorative conversations.

A Restorative Mindset

The restorative justice program seeks to support the entire campus community in developing a restorative mindset. A restorative mindset entails the willingness to think differently about relationships and situations in a way that recognizes our common humanity. Developing a restorative mindset often requires a paradigm-shift in our thinking about power, privilege, relationships and justice. Grounding ourselves in restorative values such as “openness, self‑determination, collaboration, flexibility, equality, non‑discrimination, non‑violence, fairness, respect, empowerment, trust, honesty, voluntarism, healing, personal accountability, inclusiveness, empathy and accountability”1 can lead to cultivating a restorative mindset.

A Restorative Framework

Restorative practices offer a unique opportunity to create a safe, inclusive and welcoming campus community. These practices are sometimes categorized into 3 separate “tiers” which can be a helpful tool for understanding the many ways a community can be restorative.  The University of San Diego (USD) School of Leadership and Education Sciences calls this model the “Whole School Approach.” Visit the USD for helpful image representing the three tiers.

Tier 1: Community Building

The attention to relationship building improves established connections and provides safe spaces to develop new ones. Practices in this tier include community building circles, celebration circles, and appreciation circles.

Tier 2: Response to Harm

When harm occurs, accountability for the behaviors is determined by considering the impact on those directly harmed and the whole community. This empowers those who had been harmed to inform responses to wrongdoing and provides space for those committing harms to make amends, learn, grow and evolve. Practices in this tier include peace circles, restorative conversations, and conferencing.

Tier 3: Reintegration to Community

There are many reasons why individuals may be separated from their communities for a period of time. Sometimes these separations are voluntary, sometimes they are involuntary. In all cases, a community that seeks to be truly restorative will welcome the person who seeks to be reintegrated into community with the resources and support that person needs to succeed. Practices in this tier include re-entry circles, support circles and accountability circles.

The RJ @ NU Program

The RJ program at Northwestern is evolving. With the help of trained, dedicated volunteers, Northwestern has begun to implement restorative practices with Tier 1 community-building circles. In the future, the program will extend to other critical partners such as Student Affairs and the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion.

Community Building Circles invite reflection on shared values and goals, demonstrate empathetic and respectful communication, and promote authentic and trusted relationship development. When integrated into academic and professional environments, proactive circles strengthen interconnectedness, feelings of belonging and belief that one matters to and in the community, all of which are necessary for group cohesion and well-being. 

Circle Hosts

Former University Colleagues and Members

D. Javier Thompson, Kellogg School of Management
Kate Harrington-Rosen, Office of Civil Rights and Title IX Compliance
Shá Norman, Office of Civil Rights and Title IX Compliance
Colleen Johnston, Office of Civil Rights and Title IX Compliance
Ron Alexander, Residential Services, Office of Community Standards
Rasheed Ward, University Athletics

As the RJ@NU program grows, the goal is to continue to expand restorative practices offerings by providing Tier 2 and Tier 3 options.

1 Hopkins, B. (2015). From Restorative Justice to Restorative Culture. Revista de Asistenta Sociala, 14, 19-34.