It has been nearly six months since the pepper spraying of student protestors at UC Davis, almost half a trip around the sun since I was called the next day to mediate between Chancellor Katehi and students when she was “trapped” in a campus building. The exit we facilitated, now known as “the walk of silence” and the horrifying videos of campus police pepper spraying students have been witnessed the world over.
In the days that followed, there were calls for compassion and healing, my own among these, but also from Chancellor Katehi, from Vice Chancellor Fred Wood, and many others on campus. There were also calls the world over for Katehi’s resignation and for justice. Chancellor Katehi wrote in the Winter 2012 UC Davis magazine, “As we learn the results and findings of the various investigations, I believe we will emerge as a stronger and more empathetic university. This will not happen quickly or easily.”
So, what has been happening in these six months? Soul searching and concerted dialogue between students, faculty, administration and police? A process to bring justice? Not exactly. Words like “healing” and “compassion” and “reconciliation” are easy to say and much harder to live out. If they are to be more than rhetoric, individuals–particularly those in power—must engage with humility and commitment. They must seek to right wrongs and respond to harm caused. Sometimes calling for “healing” and “reconciliation” is cover for getting back to business as usual as quickly as possible.
In the weeks after the pepper spraying, I began to advocate with a small community based team for a process of compassionate listening and restorative justice. To that end:
• I presented to students at the UC Davis King School of Law, one of whom wound up on the Task Force appointed to receive the Kroll investigation and make recommendations.
• We met with the Task Force’s chair, Cruz Reynoso, and talked with him about the value of a process of truth telling and face to face dialogue, a process that could lead to real structural change. Justice Reynoso brought these suggestions before the Task Force.
• We met with the City of Davis Human Relations Commission which is bringing a resolution to the City Council that “a community based restorative process” be put into place at UC Davis and includes a commitment by the City to explore how restorative justice can be used in the future to deal with city conflicts and challenges.
• I met with a member of the executive council of the faculty senate.
• We have been talking with students about the value of a restorative process.
In the light of the chaos that followed November 18, we weren’t sure where these efforts would lead. In some quarters, we seemed to be making progress, but the university was hindered while waiting for results from numerous investigations.
And now, finally, the report from the Reynoso Task Forceis out, and includes in its specific recommendations, “Administration and Leadership Response Recommendation No. 4: The Task Force recommends the Leadership Team devote itself to healing processes for the university community, including steps to operationalize the Principles of Community, and that the administration consider Restorative Justice among other tools to address behavior that negatively impacts the campus climate.”
The problem is that no one in the administration seems to know what a healing or Restorative Justice process might look like, and this in spite of the fact that on January 26, 2012, twenty-three student affairs staff members, from all 10 University of California campuses, took part in training for Restorative Justice at the UC Office of the President.
The UC Davis administration posted its “proposed actions” on the Task Force recommendations on Wednesday. Their response makes no mention of a healing process, and focuses instead on the Principles of Community with a timeline “TBD”. The Principles of Community were in place when the pepper spraying happened. Unfortunately, the Principles of Community have not, in recent years, translated into a Practice of Community. Reviewing these principles translates into neither healing nor justice.
And so, our small team of three, each with our own expertise in mediation, peacemaking, restorative justice and compassion/healing processes, has drafted a proposal for three in-depth meetings between students, faculty, administrators and police over the next nine months. It is being reviewed by the Faculty Senate, student affairs and several students directly affected by the pepper spraying and ongoing protests.
Will we do the necessary work to learn from this trauma and its aftermath, to be an example of a campus not undone by violence and despair but instead rising as a wiser and stronger collaborative community? Will the police recognize that unless they come to the table committed to change, the distrust they have sown and the fear they incite will prevent them from ever fully securing the campus community? Will the administration acknowledge that a real healing process is essential to being the world class university we say we are? If the record of the last six months is any indication, we are fighting an uphill battle.
Lawsuits have been filed by students against UC Davis. Students continued to protest throughout the winter, resulting in the closure of a US Bank branch on campus. Twelve have been charged in the protests on evidence provided to the Yolo County District Attorney by UC Davis. The campus police remain silent and isolated. These are not actions of trust. These are not actions that engender the kind of freedom and creativity that fuel discovery and new thought. I pray that we as a community will have the courage and patience to do what is necessary to tell the truth and heal the past to bring justice and restoration.