Towards Restorative Practice: Re-Imagining Root

Large group of students stand smiling in front of a brick wall holding a cloth sign that says "Root"

Joining a new community is never easy. It requires stepping outside of your comfort zone and navigating a new sense of identity in relationship to your surroundings. 

For the past nine years, Root has built community for first years by facilitating civic engagement and local experiential education to empower incoming campus changemakers and introduce them to the work being done in the region at the intersection of social justice and the environment. 

Like any orientation program, we have been guilty in the past of wanting to do too much. This year, we are taking a new approach to Root. We want to facilitate opportunities for incoming students to co-imagine an ideal and equitable college community with us while prioritizing rest. After all, as adrienne maree brown famously wrote, “all organizing is science fiction;” to fight for a better world, we have to imagine it first.  

Our contribution to this imagined ideal community is a focus on restorative practice. As we have curated our orientation schedule, we have thought about how we can facilitate greater kindness towards ourselves and towards each other. How can we ensure that we take care of ourselves and our collective welfare in order to continue to do the important work? This goal has required us to think intentionally about our schedule to ensure that we do not put too much on our students, who are already dealing with the pressures and anxieties of joining a new community. 

We don’t want to replicate the difficulties that many of us experience during the semester. A key aspect of all our high school identities was our academic performance. When we come to Williams, many of us feel a pressure to succeed because our academic performance and community achievements are some aspects of our identity over which we feel like we have control, even though we do not always. The pressure to succeed is especially high for those from marginalized communities, for whom success often matters because, perhaps, they have a family who has invested in them or they had to support themselves on their own. In achieving success, we have learned to control the way we act and present ourselves in order to succeed.

However, a place in which we cannot be ourselves is not restorative. By the end of our Williams career, many of us realize belatedly that we have the ability to prioritize healthy relationships with ourselves and others. We can play and enjoy it, instead of feeling guilty about it. We can learn about a subject because we enjoy learning new things, and not because we want to get a good grade. However, it is easy to feel trapped by constant feedback. As our latest notification for a new grade update on our phone has shown us, the goal has always been to succeed.

While we cannot create a whole new system, we can foster the imaginative space to think about how we can build a different community and at least partially make it a reality. We can do so through envisioning alternative realities, or through living one, at least temporarily. Root is one of the rare times at Williams when students do not have to worry about grades. Thus, we want to use this time to model alternative futures. This year, Root has planned a community visioning session, and we also plan to visit local organizations, such as Soul Fire Farm, an Afro-Indigenous community-centered farm, Radix, an urban initiative to meet human needs while restoring ecosystems, and the Iroquois Museum, a site dedicated to the promotion of Iroquois culture and art, to expand our imaginations of a just and restorative future and make them inclusive of the lived realities that we often do not see. From these visits, we will also be able to learn from leaders who have been able to realize their goals for a more just world. We also plan to host a session that connects Rooties with staff and faculty to start thinking about how we can work together to create change at Williams.

Ultimately, as Root staff and student directors, we recognize our role as facilitators rather than leaders in a hierarchical sense: we are here to facilitate opportunities to learn from each other. We have as much to learn from our Rooties as our Rooties do from us. 

We have contributed to the imagining of our own ideal community by prioritizing restorative practice, and now, we are excited to see the communities that Rooties will co-imagine and map into reality as they begin their first year at Williams in September.

Hikaru Hayakawa ’24 is a co-director of the 2023 Root orientation program and a 2023-2024 Sustainable Living Community co-coordinator at Williams College.