Kaitlyn Fowler, a junior at Mercer University, is a passionate advocate for restorative justice policies in schools. Kaitlyn was highly involved in her high school and home community, involvement driven by her own high school experiences as a student and most thoroughly demonstrated through her leadership roles in the community. Kaitlyn has extended on these experiences by working with local students as a reading tutor and meeting with area school leaders. She has developed a collaborative research plan to perform a case study of a local school system’s restorative justice program in the early stages of implementation. Her work will provide school leadership with a data-grounded evaluation of strengths, weaknesses, and overall effectiveness of their current implementation process.
Growing up, I attended a low-income, majority-Black school district. While I loved my schools, I often felt the effects of chronic underfunding through a lack of textbooks, leaking roofs, and overcrowded classrooms. In high school, I realized how the harsh, zero-tolerance discipline policies disproportionately affected and penalized Black and minority students, feeding the school-to-prison pipeline. I became passionate about the idea of restorative justice—a practice that emphasizes community, relationships, respect, and the reparation of harms—after hearing about it at the North Dakota Study Group my junior year of high school. I am currently working on a mixed methods research project that examines the implementation and impact of restorative justice practices in schools. My research plan involves observation of student and staff interactions, sitting in on restorative circles, and interviewing students, teachers, administrators, and parents on their opinions on and experience with restorative justice practices. Following this project, I plan to expand my work to other schools and districts. I am advocating for policy change and want to assist schools in developing the best restorative justice practices and implementation plans for their school community.