A Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) resolution to establish restorative processes was passed unanimously by the WSA with zero abstaining votes on Sunday, Nov. 8. The resolution was sponsored by Chair of the Community Committee (CoCo) George Fuss ’21, senator Adam Hickey ’22, Chair of the Student Life Committee (SLC) Anna Nguyen ’22, Chief of Staff Pauline Jaffe ’21, Senator Nigel Hayes ’23, Chair of the Academic Affairs Committee (AAC) Ben Garfield ’22, and Chair of the Equity and Inclusion Committee (EIC) Ariana Baez ’22. The resolution was written in conjunction with the Title IX and Support, Healing, Activism, and Prevention Education (SHAPE) offices.
The resolution revises the WSA bylaws to create a restorative process, addressing violations of the WSA Code of Conduct, including sexual misconduct, as an alternative to the impeachment process.
“The resolution really seeks to create a process within the WSA bylaws to remediate any conflict that might happen between a senator and a student, whether that’s another senator or just a student at large,” WSA President Felicia Soderberg ’21 said.
Previously, the only way that the WSA could address misconduct was by impeaching senators. However after the two impeachments that occurred in the spring—one in January and one in May—senators and members of the student body expressed frustration about a lack of transparency in WSA proceedings. Parties involved in the impeachment process also felt that it was difficult for all of their perspectives to be heard.
“Everything that happened last year was not handled well, and I’m talking about both impeachments,” Fuss said. “It’s ridiculous that the only way we can handle conflict on the WSA is to have these cliquey things that sort of just boil until they burst, but if we have a restorative process where people can talk without feeling like everything is on the line that it would be conducive to honest conversations and communication.”
In addition to the two impeachments in the spring semester, the new Title IX Final Rule led the sponsors to decide that there needed to be an institutionalized process to mediate conflict. According to the Title IX final rule, the WSA can no longer act as a judicial body or make accusations. Therefore, if senator misconduct involves any form of Title IX violation, the Title IX office becomes involved.
“Originally this restorative process was going to be covering any kind of misconduct on the WSA including sexual misconduct which is what our impeachment process did cover but now because of these new guidelines…even our old impeachment process wouldn’t have been legal to impeach someone for sexual assault unless they had gone through the cross examination process that the Trump administration has put in place,” Fuss said. “That would be the case where the Title IX officers would get involved because we’re not allowed to accuse anyone of sexual misconduct.”
The restorative process provides an opportunity to shift behavior and repair harm through both a learning process and the understanding that punitive measures are not guaranteed to be effective.
“We decided we needed this restorative process, because there are times when people want mediation and they want this other lane, than a public impeachment,” Jaffe said. “We wanted this way that wasn’t necessarily impeachment, but it was a way to bring the issue up and have a restorative process for someone to go through if that’s what they decided.”
SHAPE Director Johanna DeBari added that in the context of sexual misconduct, restorative processes are extremely effective, largely because they center on survivors and personal growth.
“Restorative processes aim to create opportunities for a growth and educational process, rather than solely a punitive process,” DeBari wrote. “They aim to center individuals’ human dignity and worthiness towards having access to resources, while also creating unique opportunities for those who have experienced harm, to have agency in outlining what they specifically need to heal. Restorative processes aim to be survivor-centered, to allow folks who have experienced harm the agency to have input on what healing outcomes look like for them. Restorative processes are centered on repairing harm, and exploring opportunities for the person who has done harm, to have a pathway back to re-entering the community, after taking accountability for that harm and unlearning toxic behaviors that led to the harm in the first place.”
To facilitate this restorative process in the event of misconduct, the resolution outlines the formation of a WSA Restorative Process Committee (RPC). The committee is comprised of the Vice Chair of the Equity and Inclusion Committee (EIC), the WSA Chief of Staff, and the senator who brought the misconduct to the attention of the Chief of Staff. In the situation that the Chief of Staff is informed by a non-senator or the Chief of Staff or Vice Chair of the EIC recuse themselves, then the Vice Chair of the Student Life Committee (SLC) becomes the third member. If a second replacement is required, it will be the Vice Chair of the Academic Affairs Committee (AAC). As there is no Vice Chair of EIC this year, due to being its first year as a full standing committee, the Chair will serve on the committee this year.
“What we tried to do with this resolution is we tried to make the restorative process committee as low level as possible,” Jaffe said. “It’s the person who knows about it, the Chief of Staff and the Vice Chair of Equity and Inclusion. And I think that is a perfectly fine trio of people to understand the information, to assess the information and to know whether or not there’s further action that needs to be taken.”
The goal of this committee is to provide a space for mediation. This entails both the committee and involved parties create a list of shared agreements and hopes for the process prior to discussing the best way to move forward with the advising of the appropriate Title IX officers, rather than going straight to the impeachment option.
“Before this, the only way to do real conflict resolution on the WSA was just to impeach someone, and so this resolution creates an alternative pathway to conflict mediation through the restorative process, so we’re bringing in different committees to decide how to handle the situation and bringing in Title IX officers, the SHAPE office, and appropriate administrators to make sure everyone has a dialogue without just kicking people off the WSA,” Fuss said.
According to DeBari, restorative processes also serve as a form of prevention.
“Creating and relying on systems that recreate harm, punishment, and violence only perpetuates the cycle of violence,” DeBari said. “There is also not an opportunity for someone to take accountability and understand ‘why’ what they did was harmful; creating the possibility for them to continue engaging in those harmful behaviors in the future. If there is no process of interrupting this harm, for someone to have the opportunity to transform and unlearn toxic behaviors, violence continues.”
Establishing restorative processes is a part of a series of WSA projects that focus on improvement to their internal structure, including institutionalizing the EIC, and working to be more transparent through efforts on social media.
Sophie Griffin contributed reporting.
Hallie Sternberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @halsternberg.