Higher Education Ph.D. Dissertations


A Phenomenological Study of the Experience of Respondents in Campus-Based Restorative Justice Programs

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Higher Education Administration

First Advisor

Maureen Wilson (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Stephen Demuth

Third Advisor

Michael Coomes (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

David Karp (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Carolyn Palmer (Committee Member)


The focus of this dissertation was the use of restorative justice practices in the collegiate setting. Some have expressed concern with the legal nature of campus conduct processes. Restorative practices have been implemented in criminal justice and K-12 settings and are seen by some as an antidote to overly legalistic campus conduct processes. Because there has been little research on restorative justice practices on college campuses, this study was exploratory in nature. The primary research question addressed in this study was, what was the experience of respondents in campus restorative justice processes? The findings included the experience of the respondents in the restorative session as well as the experience of completing the restorative agreement.

Participants were recruited from three campus programs housed at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Colorado State University, and the University of Michigan. Using a semi-structured interview format, 16 respondents who had participated in campus restorative justice processes were interviewed at their home campuses. The participants represented a spectrum of students that varied by age, gender, ethnicity, year-in-school, and type of violation.

The three major categories of themes that arose from the interviews included mediating factors, restorative sessions, and outcomes. Mediating factors—those issues, experiences, emotions, and orientations that the participants brought with them to the restorative justice process—colored, sometimes profoundly, participants' experiences in their sessions. The restorative sessions themselves were generally respectful, supportive, and engaging and seemed to help respondents understand how their actions impacted others. Factors such as social class, age, and the absence of harmed parties in the restorative session impacted the experience of the respondents both positively and negatively. The participants expressed changing in substantive and, at times, profound ways. These changes involved how they viewed themselves in relation to others, particularly in reference to the precipitating incident; how they viewed the resolution of the incident; what they learned from the process; and how they have incorporated this learning into their everyday behavior.

Implications for future research and practice are presented. Attention is focused on such issues as staff training, multicultural competence, and the importance of restorative sanctions. A model of how restorative justice works in the collegiate environment is also presented as well as potential limitations of the approach and impact on student development. The findings in this study are promising for the practice of restorative justice on the college campus and should lay the groundwork for its future study.