Thirteen students from Goshen College braved the snowy roads and traveled to Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada for the Intercollegiate Peace Fellowship (ICPF) conference.

The three day (Feb. 9-11) conference explored the meaning, history and practice of restorative justice.

Among those who went from Goshen College was first-year Emma Nouri.

“I attended this conference because as a peace justice and conflict studies major, I felt that it would be a great experience of learning and interaction about restorative justice, which is an aspect of peace and conflict studies that I have been very curious about,” Nouri said. “I wanted to be able to hear from a variety of speakers who all took a new and different approach to the concept of restorative justice.”

Ninety students and faculty from Eastern Mennonite University, Hesston College, Bethel College, Bluffton University, Canadian Mennonite University, University of Windsor, Mount Royal University, University of Western, University of Guelph and the University of Waterloo gathered together to hear from speakers representing the Community Justice Initiative in Waterloo, Mennonite Central Committee, the Peace and Conflict studies program at Conrad Grebel and the Waterloo Indigenous Student Center.

In one of the sessions on Friday, the Stride Program Coordinator at Community Justice Initiatives (CJI) Kate Crozier, shared about the program that helps women in prison build informal networks of support that assist them as they reintegrate back to the community. Crozier, introduced Jessie, an inmate, who has recently been connected with a support circle.

Christi Sessa, a junior connected with Jessie afterwards.

“Briefly after his talk, I found out that he is a transgender man and also has a twin who is tall and blond like my twin,” Sessa said. “We bonded over being twins and also being trans.”

The two then talked about being Jessie being a trans man in a women’s prison as well as the importance of advocating for trans rights and current issues with trans people in the United States and Canada.

Along with listening to a range of speakers who shared about their work in restorative justice, participants experienced the Circle. The Circle, being a way to hold conversation so that everyone’s voice is heard.

The purpose and practice of Circle has strong ties to restorative justice as it helps create a safe space for people to gain understanding of one another.

“The circle process workshop we participated in gave insight about how we could incorporate more holistic methods of not only creating mentally stimulating environments, but also creating spaces where students and faculty can come just as they are and listen fully to each other and understand each other,” said senior Chelsea Risser.

Risser believes there aren’t many spaces on campus where students and staff can just be who they are without expectations of pushing to be better and learn more.

“Humans need those kinds of spaces, which we naturally find with friends, but we could increase our sense of community by creating spaces where we can understand and connect deeply with people we don’t know as well,” she said.

The conference also marked the 40th anniversary of Peace and Conflict Students (PACS) at Conrad Grebel University College. The conference was planned by students for students.

“The planning committee really wanted to open dialogue surrounding the complexity restorative justice and how it works not only as programs, but also as philosophies that individuals can live by,” said Erin Huston, a fifth-year student at Conrad Grebel University College who served on the planning committee.

For first-year Talia Miller, the conference did just that.

“One thing I left the conference with that I didn’t arrive with was just an overall better understanding of what restorative justice really is and what it looks like in action,” she said.