Ideally, the only conflicts in student life would be happy ones, like choosing between a Dal Theatre production or a varsity game for a weekend activity. But real conflicts do happen: not just academically, but sometimes between students, or between students and the university over a student life disciplinary issue.
It’s these sorts of conflicts that Dianne Norman is focused on. As Dalhousie’s manager of student conflict resolution—a new position with Student Services—she’s an advocate for restorative justice theory and practice, and is eager to bring these sorts of approaches to addressing student life issues at Dal.
“We would like a proactive system that enables students to be good citizens,” says Ms. Norman. “Personal accountability, restoring the harmed relationship and providing an opportunity for the harmed to have a voice are keys to a successful restorative process.”
Experience solving conflicts
Ms. Norman has extensive experience in conflict resolution. She received her master’s degree in ethics and philosophy at UNB in 2001. She has worked on various boards including the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada. She's also worked as the Director of Athlete and Life Services at the Canadian Sport Centre and is a trained facilitator.
If you gather a sporty side to Ms. Norman’s background, you’d be right. She played basketball for Team Canada at the 1996 and 2000 Summer Olympic Games. And she has strong ties to Dal, too: her husband, John Campbell, is the head coach of the Dal Tigers men’s basketball team.
Ms. Norman’s mandate is to enhance the present framework where conflicts arising between students, the university and members of the community can be resolved in a restorative process, and is focusing much of her initial work on residence life and off-campus relationships. “A significant objective is having a consistent, fair and inclusive process with lots of collaboration with campus and community stakeholders,” says Ms. Norman. “We need a process where all people involved have the confidence to use it and in its results.”
Ms. Norman has the good fortune of having a team of experts and community partnerships already in place in the Dalhousie Restorative Justice Pilot Project which will be officially launched this spring. The partnership with the Department of Justice, Halifax Regional Police and Dalhousie will be an opportunity to work with the community and build restorative approaches.
“Evidence shows when restorative approaches are used, recidivism declines.” says Ms. Norman. “When individuals are given the opportunity to see the impact of their behaviour on their personal relationships and in the community, individuals tend to accept responsibility and correct their behavior. We would like students to learn from their choices and be given the opportunity to repair those relationships.”
She also wants to increase awareness of the Student Code of Conduct – something many students aren’t intimately familiar with.
“We would like to see ongoing dialogue,” says Ms. Norman. “My position is not about things going wrong for students at Dal, it is about providing the environment and implementing systems where students develop the tools to excel within a broader community and contribute to that community. The resolution process should improve the student experience, not negate it.
“My hope is that if we can establish minimal norms and skills for students, they can be their own advocates and recognize their accountability to the community, whether it be a neighborhood, residence or classroom.”
Students, faculty, staff and community members interested in learning more about Ms. Norman's work can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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