Belinda Dulin is the executive director of the Dispute Resolution Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She has been involved with mediation and restorative practice programs for fifteen years. She has trained students and adults to be mediators and restorative practice facilitators in schools and in the community. She has a BS in business administration and an MA in dispute resolution, both from Wayne State University.
"Restorative Practices in Community"
Belinda Dulin begins her story with a 2009 American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) report that put numbers to the school-to-prison pipeline in Michigan. The report affirms what communities of color and Indigenous communities know from experience: our children receive more severe disciplinary sanctions from school personnel than White children do for the same infractions. Because of this racially targeted disciplining, who can blame our children if they choose to withdraw emotionally from or rebel against the very personnel who, though entrusted with their education, nonetheless objectify and dehumanize them?
The ACLU report points to restorative practices as a way to disrupt this pipeline. Yet, after almost a decade of start-stop interventions and endless policy discussions without any real effect, Dulin, like so many other restorative practice practitioners of color, asks herself the critical question: Who is missing from the table when restorative practices are being discussed, designed, and implemented? When it comes to school discipline and its impact on our children of color, Dulin invites restorative practitioners to expand their bandwidth and intentionally include children, parents, and communities of color in all phases of restorative practices.
Dulin recognizes that for restorative practices, particularly Circles, to take root in a school, we must address the distinction between public (as in formal or clinical) and community (as in intimate or authentic). Because restorative practices bring community into a school, schools mistakenly conclude that restorative practices can thrive on the cheap—as marginalized programs to deal with marginalized people. The outcomes mirror the input: restorative practices either do not reach their potential or outright fail. By contrast, authentically incorporating restorative practices into a school means engaging community members as co-partners—and for all the reasons Dulin sees as critical in halting the school-to-prison pipeline.