Dear Thoreau,

Thank you for taking the time to write the editorial open letter to Student Life Staff that appeared in the Sept. 21 edition of the Weather Vane. Hopefully this open letter back to you can provide more context and maybe even answer some of your questions.

We all deserve to know where to access information that impacts our lives as students, faculty, and staff. The EMU student handbook is a great place to start. You can download it from the student life section on EMU’s website. Follow other links from the student life page to learn more about restorative justice and EMU student life and also follow the link to the “Student Conduct and Conflict Worksheet.” The last page of that worksheet is a table that gives information on levels of alcohol and other drug violations as well as expected outcomes. The language in the outcomes column is “outcomes may include” — this is because we are committed to educational, developmental, and restorative processes that meet the needs of the individual student as well as the needs of the university community (Student Handbook, p. 42). Automatic sanctions can encourage passive accountability; we are trying to encourage active accountability.

EMU’s policies related to substances have not actually changed much over the years. Like other universities (JMU, Bridgewater College, etc.) EMU has always prohibited alcohol and other drugs from campus. What has changed is the procedure/process used to resolve incidents and violations of the alcohol and other drugs policies.

I am glad you recognize the development towards more restorative justice routes to repairing harm and rebuilding trust. One of these developments is the AIDE (Alcohol Impacts Dialogue and Education) Course, which is a course developed with the goal of educating about alcohol and other drugs as well as promoting group dialogue about the impacts of alcohol use and misuse. The AIDE course is one of the standard outcomes for first time alcohol violations. In Student Life we are also using the AIDE course as a workshop that various campus groups can access to promote dialogue about alcohol use and misuse. If you have a group that is interested in taking this 1.5 to 2 hour course, please contact me at jonathan.swartz@emu.edu.

Restorative justice philosophy is built on the principles of respect, responsibility, and relationships. All people should be treated with dignity and respect, each of us needs to be responsible for our own actions and needs to be held accountable for those actions, and by our presence we are all members of communities and therefore connected to one another. Instead of primarily asking “what does this person deserve” restorative justice asks the community “in what ways are we obligated to each other” and “how are we committed to being with each other.” This relates to your question about why paraphernalia is a higher level violation.

Paraphernalia refers to “miscellaneous articles, especially the equipment needed for a particular activity.” Regarding paraphernalia, one question might be: what is the particular activity for which this equipment is needed? Further, and in line with restorative justice philosophy: what does my possesion of this equipment suggest about my/our commitments to myself and others? What would I like others to assume about what is most important to me if they only have my paraphernalia to consider?

Think about paraphernalia as broader than a single shot glass (as you suggested in your original open letter). What if paraphernalia also includes the posters on our walls, the flags we fly, the computers we own, or the weapons we possess? What does our possession of these items communicate about what is important to us, or about our obligations to others, or about how we want to be with each other? Who might be harmed by the message our paraphernalia is communicating?

The process of answering these questions together holds transformative potential for our campus community.

Thanks for the engagement, Tor! Looking forward to more in the coming months and years.

Jonathan Swartz

Director of Residence Life, Student Accountability, and Restorative Justice

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