Restoring Community

StaceyMiller4Dr. Stacey Miller, Director of Residential Life at the University of Vermont (UVM) since 2003, receives a lot of calls from people across the country inquiring about how they can bring restorative practices to their campuses. “I can feel the momentum swinging. It’s going to tip,” she says.

Miller was elected this month to serve on the IIRP Board of Trustees. Her enthusiasm for restorative practices has made her an effective leader of implementation efforts in her department and across campus. Now she will bring that leadership to the Board of the IIRP. “I am honored to have even been asked,” Miller says. “I am really humbled by the opportunity to participate and be a Board member.”

Miller can’t say enough about her commitment to restorative practices. “I’m surprised more schools haven’t picked up on it. They just have to see how it works,” she says.

In 2009, Miller, who has worked in the field of residential life or university housing for more than 20 years, launched a full-scale project to implement restorative practices in all residence halls at UVM. At the start of the academic year, every resident advisor (RA) – undergraduates who live with other students in the halls and serve as employees of the university – received three days of training in basic restorative practices concepts and effective use of circles.

When students arrive on campus, RAs conduct restorative circles to help build community on each floor. When things go wrong, RAs use restorative language – affective statements and restorative questions – to address and engage residents in resolving problems. Residence directors – full-time professionals who supervise RAs – provide support and coaching and organize responsive circles as needed to address serious situations. They also employ a restorative framework when they work together and interact with their superiors.

The practices have since spread to the entire Division of Student Affairs, which encompasses all non-academic programming, including residential life, student conduct, health and wellbeing, career counseling, dining services and student life. Restorative practices have even been adopted as one of three pillars of the division. (The other two pillars are “diversity and inclusion” and “results-based accountability”.) “This says a lot about the buy-in we have received on campus,” says Miller. “All our colleagues use restorative practices in some way.”

For instance, Miller noted that within the Dean of Students Office, Dennis DePaul, Assistant Dean for Business Operations, has taken restorative practices into the realm of human resources. Circles are conducted to manage staffing conflicts. When someone is coming late to work or not finishing assignments, staff teams talk about how that behavior is affecting others on the team as a way to motivate staff performance.

Miller received her doctorate of Education in Leadership and Policy Studies from the College of Education and Social Services at the University of Vermont. She co-wrote the opening chapter to the IIRP’s Building Campus Community, a practical handbook on the use of restorative practices in campus residential life, and has given talks and published articles on the topic. Additionally, Miller is the cofounder and managing partner for the Consortium for Inclusion and Equity, LLC, a small firm that specializes in integrated diversity education and consulting.

Miller takes restorative practices wherever she goes. Last summer, she served as the Dean of Students for Semester at Sea, where she promoted the use of restorative practices onboard the ship. She taught resident directors to use circles to build community and respond to harm. In one instance, a young man on the ship verbally abused a female staff member during a night of excessive drinking. His language was so egregious, a decision was initially made to remove him from the ship. Some staff advocated on his behalf, and a restorative conference was held before the sanction was imposed in an attempt to make him understand the harm he had caused. During the conference, the young man was responsive to the voices of those affected by what he had done. In the end it was decided that he could remain on the ship.

Miller says, “The conference was incredibly effective in helping the young man understand the impact and harm he caused. Afterwards, he changed his behavior, became a model citizen and stayed on the ship. He even became a role-model for other students.”

Miller adds, “Restorative practices isn’t just professional for me, it’s personal. I use it in my professional life. I use it in my personal life. I’ve seen it change and grow. I'm very flattered to have been asked to serve on the IIRP Board of Trustees and will be taking my board responsibilities very seriously. I want to help in any way I can.”

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Learn more about the IIRP’s Building Campus Community program.