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Roosevelt students organize letter campaign advocating for counselors instead of police inside Chicago schools

Posted: 02/21/2013
Roosevelt University students are on the forefront of a new local grassroots campaign that is advocating for more counselors – and not more police – as the best way to address safety concerns at area schools in the wake of school shootings in Newtown, Conn.

Opposed to giving schools more federal funds for armed guards or police, more than 400  Roosevelt students, their professors, families and friends are calling on U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk to reserve any new federal money that is to be a part of a proposed gun-reform bill for restorative justice initiatives, including more counselors at area schools.

“The research is clear. More police in schools does not increase safety, but rather, creates a hostile environment, preparing youth for prison over college and productive adulthood,” states a letter to Durbin and Kirk that was initiated and circulated recently by Roosevelt students.

Nathan Lustig, a Roosevelt senior and psychology major who has overcome disability challenges in order to get through school, is among more than 15 Roosevelt students who have been circulating the letter and will deliver hundreds of signatures to the senators later this month.
 
“If I didn’t have psychologists and special-education professionals to help me with my disabilities early on, I don’t know where I’d be today,” said Lustig, who will graduate from the University in May. “I personally know how important hands-on attention and support are for success and that is why I want my voice to be heard on this issue,” he said.

Cecily Woodard, a graduate student in Roosevelt’s mental health counseling program, has collected more than 100 of the signed letters in favor of counselors over cops. “Kids need a therapeutic approach rather than harsh treatment and solutions,” she said.

The student initiative is part of a larger grassroots campaign led by the not-for-profit Project NIA and supported by Roosevelt’s Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation.  Both organizations are among staunch advocates in favor of using restorative justice techniques as a peaceful, effective means to de-escalate violence in the schools.

"We want our elected and school leaders to understand that a law enforcement presence and culture inside our schools actually promotes further distrust and disorder," said Mariame Kaba, director of Project NIA.

“Increased police in schools do not make our young people feel safer,” added Nancy Michaels, associate director of the Mansfield Institute.  “A punitive culture at school serves to only increase arrests that further criminalize youth, particularly youth of color,” Michaels said. “Kids need to feel safe in an environment in which they are able to communicate about violence as well as other barriers they face. They need to be surrounded by adults that encourage and support them so they can deal with conflict in a restorative way.”

In fact, a study released last year by the Justice Policy Institute shows that ramped-up security measures, including hiring of more security guards and installation of more metal detectors and surveillance cameras in schools in Colorado following the Columbine shooting tragedy, led to more arrests of youth for minor violations. As a result, the state of Colorado has begun to move away from relying on security measures to address issues of violence. “Zero tolerance policies and police in schools don’t work in helping kids to be successful,” added Heather Dalmage, director of the Mansfield Institute.
 
Since 2009, Roosevelt students and faculty member, including Dalmage, have been implementing restorative justice, including peace circles and one-on-one intervention, with youths at Morrill Elementary School in Chicago’s West Englewood neighborhood. Currently, there are 48 Roosevelt students working with youths at Morrill.  They include undergraduates in Dalmage’s ongoing Sociology of the Family class and graduate students in Assistant Professor of Counseling and Human Services Kristina Peterson’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling course.

“We believe saying yes to counselors and no to cops will enable us to identify kids who need help and to place them in services that can help before it is too late,” Dalmage said.

For more information, contact Nancy Michaels at the Mansfield Institute at 312-341-2150 or nmichaels@roosevelt.edu.