My research focuses on conflict resolution practices, restorative justice, and practitioner learning. The unifying thread in most of my scholarship has been a commitment to democratic or participatory methods of studying practice. As a long-time mediator and restorative justice practitioner myself, I regularly work in co-inquiry with research participants.
Restorative Justice Practice
Before entering academia, I worked as a restorative justice (RJ) practitioner in Kentucky and New York City, working mainly in the criminal arena. In my years of practice, I noticed a dissonance between the purported aims of RJ with respect to achieving racial justice, and the ways in which it was practiced. As a restorative justice scholar, I strive to move beyond descriptive or prescriptive accounts of RJ work to problematize its practices, especially in relation to racial justice. My chapter in the new book Colorizing Restorative Justice: Voicing Our Realities (2020) draws from original research and my own experience as a bi-racial/bi-cultural facilitator working in white-led spaces that were often mistuned to the realities of clients or colleagues of color. The chapter examines the challenges to voice and mobility encountered by female RJ coordinators of color in their assigned work sites and in their home institutions. I have also conducted research with my colleague Dr. Arthur Romano about the need for racial reflexivity in restorative justice training and practice, and the perils of doing the work without it.
Mediator Reflective Practice
My interest in critical reflective practice was sparked by a call from mediation scholars and practitioners for more empirical research about what motivates conflict resolution practitioners’ choices in practice. It also stems from my own observations as a mediation practitioner and trainer for more than 20 years, during which I witnessed and experienced struggles of translating the ideals of mediation into the hard realities of a mediation room. Because conflict is an unpredictable experience, mediators find themselves regularly improvising when intervening to support parties, sometimes even acting counter to the lessons they were taught in training. My dissertation project examines the utility of reflective practice groups as avenues by which mediators learn how to learn from their improvisations in the face of uncertainty. I convened three groups in New York City who met with regularity over six months. Through critical moments, or moments of puzzlement, we experimented with reflective practice methods in order to investigate our choices in practice, the assumptions that informed those choices, and the validity of the sources underlying our assumptions.
Since joining John Jay College, I have convened two Participatory Action Research (PAR) groups of restorative justice practitioners – one in Guatemala and one in New York City – with the goal of amplifying voices of non-Western and under-represented RJ practitioners in the movement’s thought leadership. Together, we developed research questions relevant to our practice experiences. In Guatemala, the group chose to study indicators and cultivation of a restorative organization, and in New York the group is focused on the effects of historical trauma on how we facilitate restorative conversations around harm and healing. Our research activities lay the groundwork for a longer-term plan to form an international conflict specialist lab of practitioners and scholars working in co-inquiry, with the goal of giving those on the “front lines” the tools to own the research that affects them, much in the same way that RJ itself is about returning decision-making power to those affected by a particular harm. The New York PAR group has since formed the Restorative Roots Collaborative. Learn more about our work here.