Dr. Alana Abramson is a criminology instructor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University who is currently working on incorporating restorative justice into campus life.
With around 20 years of experience in the restorative justice field, Abramson emphasizes how culturally, we should take a step away from viewing justice through the lens of punishing, excluding, and shaming people.
Throughout her time at KPU, she has organized several restorative justice events, including a symposium where four former prisoners spoke about “life after life,” a forum for first responders affected by PTSD, and a talk on addressing sexual violence.
When did you join the KPU community and why?
I joined the KPU community as an undergrad. I did my first two years and completed a business administration diploma before I transferred to my third year at SFU to study criminology because at that time, KPU didn’t offer a degree. So, otherwise, I would have stayed.
I started as a student, and then I came back 15 years ago as a sessional instructor. And I just got my 15 year Service Award. So, yeah, it’s been a long haul.
What is your favourite story of your time at KPU?
I don’t know if it’s a favourite story, but I really enjoy opportunities to be with my colleagues. We have a very diverse department in criminology, and though all of us may share differing ideas, so many of us are able to work together despite our differences.
Almost everything, I feel, that we do is for students. We’re a very student-centred department. So, I feel really grateful about that.
And as of late, I’ve been working across the university community to explore ways to bring restorative justice to campus, which is something I’m really passionate about.
A highlight for me was when over 100 people came to campus to attend a conference that my colleagues and I put together on trauma and first responders. To see so many community members … people without a previous connection to KPU come on campus and learn together was really rewarding for me.
I think universities should be a hub of community where everybody feels welcome and included, and they can be a place for dialogue and learning for everyone, not just people who are registered as students.
What is something that you would like to say to people new to the KPU community?
There is so much to offer at KPU that I’m learning every day about different services, events, and opportunities. So, I would first like to say, welcome to the KPU community, and that there are so many people who are caring and concerned about your overall well being. This isn’t just a place to come and learn. It’s a place to come and be your whole self, your full self.
I believe that good learning and education should be holistic. It should incorporate the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical. And there are so many ways to nurture all of those parts of yourself at KPU. So, I encourage people to explore those ways through all of the services that we offer.
What are you working on right now?
One of the things that’s really important to me is that we provide learning opportunities when conflict happens and when harm happens. And one of the ways that we can address harm and conflict on campus and beyond is through the use of restorative justice values and principles.
Restorative justice is a non-punitive, non-adversarial approach that seeks to address the needs of all parties and repair harm to people and relationships when harm happens. And so, I’m really excited to be working with the Student Rights and Responsibilities Office, as well as other people across the university who want to see more restorative justice take place.
For example, in arts, our dean’s attempt to take a restorative approach to issues around academic integrity. When harm happens on campus between students, if there’s a conflict in a classroom between students and faculty, or between students, I think there are tremendous opportunities to have a dialogic, non-punitive education approach to that, that brings people together rather than separate.
That’s the bigger goal that I have, that college should feel like a safe, welcoming, inclusive space for everyone, where you’re going to make mistakes, but they will be addressed in a humane, restorative way.
So, that’s a project I’ve been working on for the last year and a bit and will probably continue to do because it will always be a work in progress, right? We’re trying to shift culture away from being punitive and exclusionary and shaming to be something that is welcoming, and inclusive, and peaceful.
What is something you’d like people to know about you?
I think I would like people to know that instructors are human and that we are also students. I have a dedication to lifelong learning, and I learn from my students, as well as take advantage of professional learning opportunities through the university and elsewhere.
And … I’d like people to know that one of my favourite, most rewarding things is to hear from students down the road. I just heard from someone who just was accepted into law school. That was my student that I wrote a reference for.
It’s just very affirming that students stay connected to us far beyond their university experience at KPU. And that’s something I really treasure, and that keeps me motivated through stressful times.