Many Packer students today view themselves as responsible for making our school a more supportive and equitable community. With that mindset, the Student-Faculty Justice Committee has worked to shift how it responds to students who fall short of our community’s core values.
SFJC (formerly known as the Student-Faculty Judiciary Committee) is a body of 17 Upper School students and three teachers who review student disciplinary cases referred to them. Most often, the cases involve violations of community norms or school policies such as academic honesty.
In the past, SFJC employed a traditional discipline model, focusing on the details of the infraction and determining an appropriate consequence. Its application process for students wishing to join the committee strongly favored the most confident public speakers. And its early-morning meetings discouraged those with long commutes from even applying. All of these factors felt increasingly out of step with the communal spirit of our student body.
Zola Narisetti ’23, who has served on SFJC for three years, reflected on the insight she and her peers gained from @BlackatPCI on Instagram, where Black alumni recounted how disciplinary procedures were applied differently to them than to their White peers. “If alumni are still talking about [old cases], obviously they’re still hurt. Obviously they felt that there was something missing, that the process… wasn’t successful.”
In recent years, the Committee has revamped its selection process (scrapping the public speaking requirement) and moved its meetings to regular school hours. And it has adopted a restorative process to allow students the space for reflection, accountability, and repair to the community, thanks to an ongoing training-partnership with Nicole Lavonne Smith P’26 of the Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility.
“Circling” is one of the practices the Committee has implemented. Instead of sitting alone while facing a panel of their peers, the student who is referred to SFJC sits amongst the committee members in a big circle. They pass around a physical “talking piece,” which indicates whose turn it is to speak and enhances attentive listening. The overall effect is to foster a constructive conversation about the student’s actions and their impact: why they made a mistake, what they have learned, and how they plan to move forward.
This approach puts students at ease. “They don’t feel like they’re on trial. It’s not punitive in nature,” said faculty coordinator Larissa Dzegar.
SFJC’s new restorative approach is about “learning and community,” said SFJC member Raenen Traver-Fallick ’23. “All the parties involved (especially the perpetrator of the harm) learn how to move forward and be better in the future. In doing so, lines of communication are reopened, and the community is strengthened.”
Supporting students in this way is for some members an intentional rejection of cancel culture where “there are no second chances,” said Raenen. “With restorative justice, when a person does or says something problematic, SFJC [holds them accountable while giving] them a chance to reflect on that action and share their side of a story. This process builds up a community instead of making it smaller.”
Zola added: “We reach out to students, days or even months after the process, to make sure they felt heard. We ask, ‘Is there anything we can do? Here is a list of resources,’ to wrap everything up. And if it doesn’t feel resolved, we can have another circle. We’re just there to listen and support.”
“It’s important to recognize that adolescents, and all of us, make mistakes sometimes,” said Maria Nunes, Head of the Upper School. “How you deal with the aftermath of a poor decision is what matters most.”
— Karin Storm Wood is the Communications Director at Packer.