Boston College is looking to expand its use of restorative practices to broader community building, according to Melissa Woolsey, the associate dean of student conduct.
“Restorative practices look to really loop in that community aspect,” Woolsey said. “What is BC’s stance, purpose, needs, when it comes to conflict and other issues, especially around inclusion, belonging, and community building?”
In collaboration with the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs, the Office of the Dean of Students recently sponsored three-day training workshops surrounding restorative practices. Four experts from the University of San Diego Center for Restorative Justice led 50 students, faculty, and staff members in the training from January 11 to 13.
Restorative practices are based on the idea of restorative justice, a voluntary practice where a mediator typically leads a victim and offender in a discussion. The victim can share how they were affected, and all parties can attempt to resolve past harm.
The federal government first permitted universities to utilize informal resolution processes, like restorative justice, in cases of sexual misconduct with new Title IX regulations in 2020, according to Woolsey. BC thus wanted to find new ways to incorporate restorative practices into its conduct process.
After an alleged incident of sexual misconduct, if the victim and the offender both choose to participate, the University will utilize a restorative justice model where both parties meet and have a conversation, Woolsey said.
According to Woolsey, before that meeting occurs, trained restorative facilitators meet with each party individually for pre-conferencing to ensure that the victim’s needs are met and that the session will cause no further harm.
“So when both parties agree that that would be a helpful way to resolve an incident, we will use a restorative justice model,” Woolsey said. “Restorative practices came up as a really survivor-focused and trauma-informed way to respond to some of these really harmful incidents.”
Beyond its use in the conduct process, Woolsey said the University wants to incorporate elements of restorative justice into broader restorative practices to improve the student experience, including building community among freshman communities and improving Weeks of Welcome programming.
“We wanted to really think about a way to diversify the way that restorative practices are being used across campus and diversify the amount of people and the types of people that were using these practices in different areas so that it’s not just in a conduct setting, it’s not just in a ResLife setting, and students are able to kind of touch on some of these restorative practices throughout their experience at BC,” Woolsey said.
Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs and Students for the Lynch School of Education and Human Development Julia DeVoy, who helped launch a minor in restorative and transformational justice at BC in 2018, also emphasized that restorative practices can have wider applications on campus.
“Having [launched the minor], I started to think, ‘Okay, there are other ways this can be used at Boston College, and there are other spaces, other systems, and other contexts in which this has wonderful applications,” DeVoy said.
Restorative practices, for example, could be beneficial in responding to academic integrity violations, creating a space that encourages growth and learning, according to DeVoy.
“Not everything needs to be an all or nothing with academic integrity [cases],” DeVoy said. “Those are teachable moments and opportunities to develop and lift people as they grow, and I think it’s been so nice to have that lens embedded in that [process].”
During times of national tragedy, Woolsey said she hopes restorative practices can also help build community at BC.
“And then also respond to other issues that happen even outside of BC,” Woolsey said. “So when we watch national tragedies or things happen, how do we come together as a community to support each other in that?”
Travis Lopinsky, LSEHD ’25, participated in the University’s training. Like Woolsey, he highlighted the community-based applications of restorative practices.
“I feel like it’s much more community-based,” Lopinsky said. “So if students are having issues come up on campus, say around identity, I feel like if we have conferences or circles that we learned about in training, students will be more comfortable just talking amongst themselves.”
Lopinsky said he gained a new sense of emotional intelligence from the training, and he hopes to apply what he learned to his future career in education.
“I feel like people have a harder time with conflict because it’s harder for them to identify their emotions,” he said. “It’s not really something that’s taught a lot in schools. And so I feel like this is really an opportunity to name what you’re feeling and for everyone else to see that—I feel like it’s humanizing in a way.”
Lopinsky said trainees also learned about talking circles, discussion spaces in which participants sit in a circle and share their feelings about a specific conflict or topic.
“The circles that we learned about in training is just like talking a lot about ourselves, becoming familiar with each other, which I feel like helps with conflict resolution, because you’re much more comfortable bringing it up and talking to each other,” Lopinsky said.
Woolsey said BC plans to grow awareness about restorative practices by offering more training sessions for students and faculty in the future.
“So I think this semester, we’re trying to encourage all the facilitators to get out there, run as many circles as they can and then hope for more structured models moving forward,” Woolsey said. “And then as we feel more comfortable with that capacity to continue to train new people continue to bring it up to other groups within campus as well.”
By integrating restorative practice themes across campus and into various majors and minors, DeVoy said BC students can become men and women for others.
“I feel like that’s going to produce a ripple effect of students that go out into the world and meet the Boston College mission, you know, ‘men and women for others,’” DeVoy said. “And to me, that is why I do what I do.”