An Open Letter to Theatre Students at Dalhousie University and King’s College, Halifax
I have been thinking about the situation, the very polarizing and therefore dramatic situation, you have been living through. I refer to the conduct of the male dental students who created the Facebook page that has made ‘the citizens of Dal’ the centre of an international debate.
I was particularly fascinated by the decision of the university president to offer to send the men, and those women willing to attend, through a restorative justice process and then the strong response, backlash if you will, of others to that idea.
I have written a play, Tough Case, on restorative justice and I know, firsthand, what a transformative experience it can be. I know, for example, that the process is victim oriented. Those who have been harmed by a crime often emerge from a restorative justice process empowered. I also have seen, firsthand, how offenders can own their wrongdoing, and emerge better people. Permanently. The reduction in recidivism (reoffending) among offenders in Nova Scotia who have gone through a restorative justice process proves the point.
However, restorative justice is a private meeting of those affected. The benefits will accrue to those young women, who, if the process is successful, will emerge empowered and the young men who will, if the process is successful, emerge chastened and transformed. However “those affected”, in this case, includes every woman who has been affected by rape culture, male entitlement etc., and every man who wants to protect women and redeem the dignity of their gender. Can a restorative justice process encompass all these threads? Those close to the process think it can but many people – students, faculty etc. – don’t, They want the accused men to be expelled or criminally charged. This would be a public punishment, deliberately painful, that will, if the process is successful, cause other young men to change their behaviour out of fear of repercussions. I personally don’t think this is an effective way to change human behaviour but I completely understand that many people think it is.
But here’s why I am writing you. I think there is an opportunity, perhaps a once in a lifetime opportunity, to create a play on all this. If you are already doing this, bravo. How can I help? If you are not, I encourage you to consider it.
You are the best people to do it. First because you have lived it and second because you are emerging artists and your voice would be fresh, relevant and, if the process is successful, riveting. So riveting. I mean, imagine the restorative justice meeting where the male dental students and the female students walk in – to the same room – face to face – for the first time. Imagine the tension in that room. But the character mix would be more than those specific students. In restorative justice, offenders and victims can bring people to support them. So imagine what the father of one of the girls would say to the boys? Imagine what the boyfriend of one of the girls would say to the boys? Imagine what the mother of one of the boys would say to the girls, defending her son, his character, his future being on the line? Imagine the feelings of the women who refused to attend? Of the men who refused to participate… Tense. Riveting. Stakes. Global significance. What an opportunity.