Justice Cafe Seeks to Reform D.C. System by Educating Community Members

Justice Cafe—a space created to critically engage community members on topics relating to justice, especially with regards to Discipline Committee (D.C.) reform—held its second meeting on Sunday, discussing the presence and influence of justice on students’ daily lives. Led and organized by Mary Muromcew ’22 and Tristan Fain ’22, Justice Cafe takes place on most Sundays with several speakers planned throughout the year.

The inspiration for Justice Cafe derived from Muromcew and Fain’s work in D.C. reform. Their idea of educating the student body on justice in order to achieve D.C. reform led to the creation of Justice Cafe.

“I think giving students the terminology and the awareness of, or just the language to say, ‘This type of justice is applicable to my life in this way,’ or ‘In this facet of identity, I can apply this or that.’ To actually know their standing is really key, especially on Andover’s campus,” said Muromcew.

Realizing that there is a lack of opportunities on campus for discussions about justice, Fain and Muromcew wanted to provide students a space in which such conversations could happen.

“We really want to bring the topic of justice to a lot of different lenses on campus, because oftentimes—or at least we feel—there’s not a lot of outlets for these discussions to happen, especially in our current social climate with all the things that are happening around us. So, we want to give opportunities for students to discuss these in spaces that are productive and not what the administration will push aside,” said Fain.

Justice Cafe kicked off with an introductory meeting on November 7, where attendees were introduced to restorative justice and received updates on the D.C. reform movement. The second Justice Cafe on Sunday consisted of a more in-depth lesson on restorative justice, comparisons with other types of justice, and culminated in an activity of reimagining the D.C. system.

Attendees were exposed to the idea of restorative justice—an approach focusing on righting the wrong through communication between individuals affected by the crime and those responsible—and punitive justice, a response to a crime that emphasizes the punishment of lawbreakers and the compensation of victims. These discussions sparked calls for a reconsideration of the current D.C. system at Andover. The motivation for students avoiding bad behavior being their fear for D.C. consequences, rather than concern for the actions harming the community, doesn’t help rebuild the community, according to Kris Aziabor ’22.
“That’s very distorted because it doesn’t actually put an emphasis on the community; it just puts an emphasis on the intimidating systems that are already put in the institution. And if it is, I think we could see a shift in how students act because people would be acting more in a sense of a unified manner where they would actually want to do good for the community rather than just do good for themselves,” said Aziabor.

Many attendees did not have extensive knowledge about the D.C. system prior to participating in Justice Cafe. Nigel Savage ’23, who attended Sunday’s Justice Cafe, explained that most students who have not been through the D.C. process are unaware of the details. Savage believes that understanding ways the system could be improved is crucial to consolidating our community as a whole.

“My biggest takeaway from the Justice Cafe was really just learning more about restorative justice and trying to figure out ways that we can make the Andover campus and D.C. system more supportive and not repetitive, because if we take on this conception that Andover is a community, then our first goal should be to strengthen that community,” said Savage.

Eleanor Dehoog ’24 recognized that the road to D.C. reform will be a long and difficult process. As members of Student Council, Muromcew, Dehoog, and Savage will all be working towards expanding the call upon justice on campus.

“Restorative justice is not something that can be implemented in Andover’s disciplinary system very quickly, it’s going to take years and years of working towards a goal. And there’s not really an end goal. You’ll always have to be working towards something. So, this process is really slow, but it’s important to get started,” said Dehoog.

Many attendees viewed students’ active participation in the past two Justice Cafes as encouraging and showed optimism towards the future of the DC system. While acknowledging that generating change would be difficult, Aziabor expressed his appreciation for Justice Cafe’s role in starting conversations.

“It was just really encouraging to see a relatively large number of students concerned but also optimistic about the future of the D.C. system. A big takeaway I had was just that it is going to be difficult. Obviously, the institution doesn’t seem keen on making large-scale changes. And so, it’s really pretty unified effort from at least the student body to mount some change, but I do think there is something there and there’s definitely the ideas,” said Aziabor.

Open to all students regardless of prior experience with justice and D.C. reform, Justice Cafe’s meeting on November 8 invited activist and writer Leon Ford as a guest speaker.

“During an incident in 2012, the police mistook him for another Black man who was wanted, and they shot him five times and left him paralyzed from the waist down. And he’s come to fight both his demons, mentally, and learn more about himself through this. It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to learn about him and see some perspective—because as Andover, we’re in a bubble more often than not,” said Fain.