Restorative Justice and the Five Pillars

Author: Nathan Elliot

“We shall always place education side by side with instruction; the mind will not be cultivated at the expense of the heart. While we prepare useful citizens for society, we shall likewise do our utmost to prepare citizens for heaven." – Blessed Basil Moreau

Until recently, I served our students in the Title IX Student Services Office. When the University learns of a possible situation of sexual harm, the Student Title IX Office reaches out to the potentially affected students and offers to meet to discuss available options and resources. In some situations, restorative justice can be helpful in guiding our conversations, with the five pillars of a Holy Cross Education aligning nicely with the restorative justice paradigm.

Restorative justice is a way of responding to harm that maintains a focus on the impacted person. The harmed person is invited to share what happened, how the harm has impacted them, what has been hardest about the situation, as well as thoughts regarding what might be done to address the harm and rebuild trust. Such questions are intended to help the person articulate the harm experienced and the needs created by the harm. In some cases, the identified needs of the harmed party involve the person who caused the harm and that person may be invited to participate in a structured process to address those needs. 

This is different from conventional responses to harm that focus on the rules or laws broken and the person who broke them. In a conventional response, the impacted person and their needs may not be the primary focus.

Restorative practices provide an opportunity for students to practice the five pillars of a Holy Cross education. Students demonstrate Heart as they examine how they live out their priorities and values.  Students demonstrate Family as they participate in processes that build community through mutual respect and healthy communication. Students demonstrate Zeal as they show the courage to communicate their needs, hear the needs of others, and take initiative to make things right. Students demonstrate Hope as their very participation in these processes shows a belief in the inherent worth and goodness of oneself and others.

Restorative processes particularly encourage students to demonstrate Mind as they learn to communicate their experiences and needs in ways that others can understand. Students further demonstrate Mind as they work to understand the perspective and experience of others. Restorative justice cultivates the heart alongside the mind as students deepen their ability to empathize, increase self-understanding, communicate clearly, maintain focus on addressing harm, and strive to make things right. These skills, so important for our world today, also contribute to Fr. Moreau’s vision of a Holy Cross education that prepares citizens for heaven. 

In my work in Title IX, I was drawn to learn more about restorative approaches to addressing instances of sexual harm because they are so consonant with the five pillars of a Holy Cross Education that undergird our work in Student Affairs. What I learned informs how I go about our mission of educating both the mind and the heart of our students. For each of us in the Division of Student Affairs, anchoring our work in our Holy Cross Heritage can deepen our engagement with our students and further our professional development.  Ave Crux, Spes Unica! 

- Nathan Elliot, Director of Residential Life: Training and Development