Justine Darling didn’t invent restorative justice — an indigenous concept used around the world for centuries — but the energy and determination to demonstrate it as an effective conflict resolution method for University of San Diego student matters is definitely hers.
“It’s a face-to-face interaction between impacted parties and the people who are responsible coming together to address harm and the obligation they have toward each other to build community and trust,” said Darling of her definition. “I believe restorative justice is a different way of working with students and it calls us to work in different ways.”
Darling earned a BA in 2008 in psychology from USD. She completed the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies (KSPS) 17-month master’s program in peace and justice studies this month. Both academic pursuits, as well as a one-year stint in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps after her undergraduate graduation, have helped shape her current passion as USD’s Restorative Justice Coordinator.
Her work with restorative justice, from creating and implementing workshops, trainings and conflict services for students and staff, as well as her spiritual work as a resident minister earned Darling recognition, along with current senior Eirene Rocha, as a 2011 USD Student Women of Impact Award winner at a Dec. 9 annual luncheon hosted by the USD Women’s Center.
She has a vision “inspired by a mission in life to pursue justice in the world in ways that help bring communities together to reconnect, heal and transform,” said one anonymous nomination letter in support of Darling for the award.
A lunch conversation with Director of Student Conduct and Graduate Student Life Sean Horrigan initially brought up restorative justice. Darling was starting the master’s program at the time. Eighteen months later, she is connecting KSPS and the Office of the Dean of Students to use this process in a small number of student conduct cases.
The partnership, she said, can be sustainable. Not only does this method help students involved in the conflict, but can provide a hands-on conflict resolution experience for graduate students in peace studies, leadership and law.
“I’m coming from the master’s program in peace studies and I thought I was lacking opportunities to develop my facilitation skills,” she said. “We learn all of these great theories for conflict resolution in our classes, but there’s nowhere to apply it in a convenient way.”
Darling has been doing much of the heavy lifting as coordinator, but she does have support from Horrigan and Assistant Dean of Students Marie Minnick.
“Trainings are the most important part right now,” Darling said. “It’s just been me doing conferencing, developing it, marketing it and doing the training.”
The program caters specifically to USD’s needs, but Darling’s examination of restorative justice systems extends far beyond USD. Her final capstone project focused on researching best practices usage at other U.S. higher education institutions. She interviewed administrators at nine colleges and universities who’ve successfully implemented this type of program. Darling also traveled to Belfast, Northern Ireland last summer to meet with experts in restorative justice implementation. She is also scheduled to present at a January reconciliation conference in Kigali, Rwanda.
At USD she’s done group dialogue trainings with Residential Life, University Ministry, and USD staff. She also organized a group dialogue “peace circle” during USD’s Hate Crimes Awareness Week this fall. The United Front Multicultural Center and at least one campus fraternity are interested in working with Darling.
She will be conducting a pair of two-day trainings, Jan. 18-19 for faculty, staff, and graduate assistants; and Jan. 27-28 for graduate students and select undergraduate students. These are chances for more members of the campus community to understand Darling’s program and enhance communication, lessen conflict and to aid in building community. That’s what making an impact is all about.
“I was very appreciative of the Woman of Impact Award and that the work is being noticed for making an impact. But when I was up on stage and looked out at everyone there, what I was thinking is that only reason why restorative justice and what I’ve put a lot of time and energy into has created such an impact is because all of the people here believe in this. They’ve helped it come to fruition every step of the way. This joint effort has allowed me to flourish as a person. I’m a woman of impact because I’m part of this specific community, a very supportive and loving community.”
— Ryan T. Blystone