Restorative Justice: At the Heart of the PACS Experience

nathan FUnkA Restorative Justice (RJ) worldview is central in the undergraduate, graduate, and professional courses of study in Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS) at Grebel. Core elements of RJ—identifying harms, naming needs, taking responsibility for harms, and working towards healing within relationships—have shaped our peace studies curriculum since the 1970s. Here are some of the ways RJ has grown in PACS programming with each passing decade.

As he established the foundations of PACS as an interdisciplinary minor, Conrad Brunk invited students to wrestle with a central concern of the RJ movement by challenging them to understand how justice might be pursued without punitive violence. Dean Peachey, another formative influence on PACS, helped to heighten awareness of Restorative Justice principles and processes in PACS courses as well as in Waterloo Region. By co-founding Conflict Resolution Network Canada, he also impacted the broader national conversation about RJ and non-adversarial responses to conflict.

In 2001, new expressions of the PACS commitment to RJ became manifest in a training partnership of the Conflict Management Certificate program and Community Justice Initiatives (CJI), through a workshop on Transformative Mediation led by Keith Regehr. Keith joined colleagues Lowell Ewert and Betty Pries in the undergraduate gateway course, Conflict Resolution, which has introduced thousands of students to RJ.

As PACS developed from an interdisciplinary minor into a BA program, demand for additional RJ courses grew. Among the new courses created in the following years were Restorative Justice; Trauma, Healing, and Conflict Resolution; and Cultural Approaches to Conflict Resolution. Meanwhile, Conflict Resolution in the Schools received a sharper RJ focus as instructor Dennis Gingrich sought a name change to Restorative Justice and Transformative Education.

Although many other courses in the PACS curriculum speak directly to the application of restorative and transformative justice principles, the keystone in the undergraduate PACS curriculum is Restorative Justice, originally taught by Judah Oudshoorn, which investigates the history, theory, principles, practices, and people of RJ. The course content has given special prominence to Restorative Justice as a way of dealing with crime and punishment, and interpersonal violence in the Canadian context, and is also cross-listed with Legal Studies, which offers a new way of thinking for many students.

Trauma, Healing, and Conflict Resolution is another highlight of the undergraduate PACS curriculum. This course, most recently taught by Susan Gallagher, offers students an opportunity to reflect more deeply and critically on the application of the philosophy of restoration within the context of trauma. Students examine how conflict resolution processes can be impacted by trauma as experienced by both the victim and the perpetrator. With case examples from armed violence to family violence, sexual violence, and racialized violence, students explore emotional, physical, and relational aspects of conflict to better understand the potential for interventions that might promote peace and justice understood within the framework of restoration.

In the MPACS curriculum, restorative themes are particularly prominent in courses such as Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding Reconciliation. The former course, often taught by Jennifer Ball, seeks not just to expose students to peacebuilding concepts, practices, and cases, but also to offer training in skills relevant to RJ and peacemaking, such as circle process and nonviolent communication. The latter course, currently taught by Narendran Kumarakulasingam, invites students to grapple at a deep level, both with the realities of harm caused by oppression and armed conflict and with the perennial impulse to seek reconciliation. In these courses, as well as in other Grebel offerings, attention is given to sources of moral and practical inspiration for RJ practices—in Christian traditions, in Indigenous communities, and in cultures around the world seeking forms of justice that also bring elements of healing and transcendence.

Internships chosen by students have been one of the better indicators of the popularity of RJ content in the MPACS program. To date, eight MPACS students have completed internships at Community Justice Initiatives in Kitchener (itself started by Grebel alumnus Mark Yantzi), and three students have pursued internships with Mennonite Central Committee’s RJ programs (Circles of Support and Accountability).

As the alumni voices profiled in this issue demonstrate, RJ offers a vision that has the capacity to inspire change within individuals and communities, and to shape aspirations for career and vocation. This vision is deeply rooted within the Grebel mission, but it is not static: we continue to learn and to grow as we engage the experiences and testimony of diverse communities within and beyond North America, and face the challenges posed by systemic injustice. We are listening carefully to these voices as we work to broaden the curriculum, and partner with other departments at the University of Waterloo to develop new initiatives and proposals, including a planned diploma in Restorative Justice that is currently under review.