A Changing SFJC: Packer’s Shift to Restorative Justice
Few institutions at Packer are as feared as the Student Faculty Judiciary Committee. It is known among students as the place you get sent to if you violate one of Packer’s many rules, a place where punishment is doled out. This year, though, the SFJC is transitioning from a punitive to a restorative form of justice.
The original purpose of SFJC was to provide students with a voice in Packer’s disciplinary procedures. In the past, grades got to elect two representatives to serve on the committee, which bridged the gap between students and the administration. However, many students took issue with how the committee was run, citing problems such as a lack of diversity and its punitive approach. In response to these criticisms, SFJC is undergoing changes to fit a model that, hopefully, will better suit the Packer community.
In the old model of SFJC, a student would be referred to the committee after breaking a rule or community norm, such as being late, misusing electronics, or cheating on schoolwork. The student would go and talk about what happened, and then the committee would deliberate and recommend sensible consequences to the administration, such as in-school suspension or detention. However, there were limits to SFJC’s power; certain issues were brought directly to the Head of School, which meant not everyone was evaluated by a jury of their peers.
This new model of SFJC, though, will look very different: “In the restorative model, the person who has done the harm sits in conversation with the person against whom the harm is done. The victim will have a chance to say what they need to say to move on productively in their relationship,” explains Meridith Whitehouse, SFJC Faculty Leader and Upper School English Teacher. One major priority, she confides, is tackling a situation in a way that addresses the needs of the person who was harmed, instead of merely punishing the person who harmed them.
Another major shift is making SFJC a first step in the problem-solving process, where students can talk and discuss with their peers, rather than a final body that administers punishments. In the past, students only went to SFJC after speaking to their parents and teachers and continuing to violate behavioral norms. Because it served as the very last punitive consequence, SFJC earned their threatening reputation. In this new revised process, SFJC will be the first step for students. The point of this is to make a visit to the SFJC a preventative measure, rather than a punitive one.
Another common criticism of SFJC is that it lacks adequate representation of the Packer student body. Historically, a disproportionate number of the SFJC members have been white males, and SFJC leaders are pledging to change that.
“We specifically asked students of color who were interested to join the committee, as well as faculty of color. So we’re a larger group now, we’re a more representative group now,” Ms. Whitehouse says.
New SFJC member Aadyn Valley (‘21) says, “I thought: I want to join and I’m a minority so maybe I can add my perspective. I approve of the restorative justice model, and I think it’ll take the stigma off of SFJC unfairly penalizing minorities.”
SFJC may also be forgoing the typical election process. “We hope at some point to let anyone who wants to sit in and be a part of the restorative justice process,” SFJC member Matt Kodsi (‘22) says. Many criticized elections in the past as simply being popularity contests, and not representative of who would have actually been a best fit for the committee.
This will not be a quick process, though. Ms. Whitehouse predicts that it will take three to four years to implement an entirely restorative system.“This is countercultural. People’s attitudes are going to have to shift. These changes take more time than a simple administrative change. It is an investment,” she says.
When asked about what he wanted SFJC to become, Matt responded: “My biggest hope for SFJC is that students know it isn’t a scary place. I really want people to feel safe in SFJC, to feel like it’s a place where their peers are listening to them, and giving them fair treatment overall.”
As modeled in our own country, a punitive system of justice is not always the most effective way of making people follow the rules. The shift to a restorative system is indicative of a changing culture at Packer, one that is kinder and more understanding to its students.