Mindful U Podcast Episode 84: Jamelah & Amanda: Mission Culture & Inclusive Community at Naropa University


The newest episode of our podcast, Mindful U, is out now! We are happy to announce this week’s episode features Amanda Aguilera, PhD, and Jamelah Zidan, who both work in the Mission, Culture & Inclusive Community division at Naropa.

Mission, Culture & Inclusive Community (MCIC) is a newly created division, created in response to the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter Movement – when the push for closer alignment with unconditional peace and justice was necessary for the conscious evolution of our Naropa community. Learn more about this division’s work at Naropa from Zidan, Restorative Community Coordinator, and Aguilera, Senior Director of Mission, Culture & Inclusive Community, in this Mindful U Podcast episode.

In this episode:
-Transformative Justice Practices
-Enhancing & Repairing Community Systems
-Self-Regulation
-Pro-Active Community Building
-The Importance of Trust & Relationship Building

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Learn an MCIC term: J.E.D.I. 
Justice.
Equity.
Diversity.
Inclusion.

Get To Know Your Host:
Apple: David DeVine: An Intimate Interview and Mindful U Year In Review
Spotify: David DeVine: An Intimate Interview and Mindful U Year In Review

Your Next Noteworthy Listen:
Travis Cox: Ecopsychology & Psychedelics

The Office for Mission, Culture, & Inclusive Community’s mission is to create beloved community through critical consciousness-raising and cultural transformation. The MCIC is Naropa’s home for social justice work—celebrating diverse identities and creating a culture at Naropa that is radically inclusive. Rooted in the school’s mission to “transform yourself, transform the world,” MCIC supports students, staff, faculty, and the institution at large to grow their awareness of the dynamics of privilege, power and oppression, and to take social action.

Learn more about MCIC here. 

 

Read Full Transcript
Jamelah & Amanda
TRT 49:23

[MUSIC] Hello, and welcome to Mindful U at Naropa. A podcast presented by Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. I’m your host, David Devine. And it’s a pleasure to welcome you. Joining the best of Eastern and Western educational traditions — Naropa is the birthplace of the modern mindfulness movement.

[MUSIC]

David:
Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of the Mindful U Podcast. Today I will be speaking with two guests, Jamelah Zidan, who is a restorative community coordinator, and also Dr. Amanda Aguilera, who is the Senior Director of the Mission Culture & Inclusive Community. They have both come on the podcast today to talk about the work that they do at the university. And while also teaching and telling us about restorative practices we can do amongst our communities. So welcome to the podcast. How are you both doing today?

Jamelah Zidan:
Doing good?

Amanda Aguilera:
Yes, doing great.

David:
This is really cool, because I’m actually in your office. And it’s been a while since I’ve been on the Naropa campus because I’ve invited people to the studio. And it’s also like, really fun, because there’s two of you. So, we get double information for today. So, I appreciate you both being here and also just allowing me to be in your office. I want to start with the straightforward and know where you both study from while becoming an educator. And what you teach at Naropa.

Amanda Aguilera:
Sure, I studied actually at Naropa. I got my masters — it used to be masters of contemplative psychotherapy, it’s now like contemplative psychotherapy, but it’s psychology and that was in 2008 when I graduated. And pretty soon thereafter, I started getting — started studying for my doctorate. It took me about 10 years as a single mom, to get my doctorate.

David:
Congratulations.

Amanda Aguilera:
Thank you. And I started working at Naropa in 2018 in this capacity. So —

David:
Do teach any classes?

Amanda Aguilera:
Not currently, I teach a lot on — on campus. But the way that we get to teach is we get to teach everybody. So, with training and what I see.

David:
And you?

Jamelah Zidan:
And I graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in New York, with my master’s in education, and I was a teacher in New York City for five or six years before changing my life completely. And coming out to Colorado. And yeah, we do trainings. And I’ve been in a few classes asked to talk about conflict and restorative justice and that kind of thing.

David:
Okay, beautiful. And so, I’d also like to ask what brought you to Naropa? Because Naropa has like a very unique contemplative education curriculum. And I’m curious what inspired you to come here and want to work here?

Jamelah Zidan:
So, I was a — I was working as a assistant director of an interfaith retreat center in New York, and a current professor here came to teach, and we fell in love. And we got married, and I moved out here to be with him.

David:
Oh wait, is it that guy that I podcast with the other day?

Jamelah Zidan:
Yes, Netanel Miles-Yepez. I wasn’t thinking about working at Naropa. But then they posted for a restorative community coordinator, which I’ve been doing restorative justice in my teaching, and I thought it’d be pretty awesome to help expand restorative community. That’s why I’m here.

David:
Cool.

Amanda Aguilera:
And I’m so glad you’re here.

Jamelah Zidan:
Thank you. I’m glad to be here.

Amanda Aguilera:
Let’s see, to study here or to work here, or both?

David:
What inspired you to work here, to apply?

Amanda Aguilera:
I was kind of invited, you know, after decolonized commons in 2015, I believe it was, Regina Smith, who’s currently the VP of MCIC mission, cultural inclusive community, she wanted — she had this vision of having a team that could do restorative practices, or restorative justice. And she — she and I had a connection prior to, and she remembered that — that was my specialty. That’s what I did my doctorate in, and all of that. So, she contacted me and said, could you come in as a contractor. And so initially, I just came in and did training and consulting. And then the opportunity arose for her to create a full time position to bring it more fully into the university.

David:
Amazing. And there’s like this synchronistic kind of aspect to both of you, which is really cool. So, Jamelah, your position at Naropa is being the restorative community coordinator. And so, could you tell the audience what is this role, how it offers itself to the community and what is your responsibilities in this position?

Jamelah Zidan:
Oh, gosh, okay. So, when I was hired, there was already a system in place for students to request restorative practices or restorative conversations. So restorative conversation happens when two folks have been in conflict, harm may have been done. And students, faculty staff can request support with repairing the harm that’s been done in that conflict. So, I coordinate all of that. So, I do intake, and I do pre-conferencing, and then ideally, it would be that I assign a facilitator to help them with that conversation. I also coordinate the trainings. So that means I make sure that there’s a room and that people know about it, I get the word out. I think those are my responsibilities. Basically, I make — I run the CReST meetings, which is Community Repair and Support Team, which is the group of trained volunteers, that would be the facilitators for those conversations.

David:
Okay. So, when these two conversations happen between these people, is it one party wanting it with another? Or is it — are they both wanting — does it just kind of sideswipe someone?

Jamelah Zidan:
No. So it has to be completely voluntary. So, both parties need to want this. That means often meeting with both parties, privately, it always means that — meeting with them individually, and talking about the goal of restorative conversation and seeing if it’s acceptable to them and sounds like something they want to do.

David:
Would you say it’s always a student to student base? Faculty members, student — like —

Jamelah Zidan:
It’s both. It’s everything. What have you seen Amanda?

Amanda Aguilera:
Yeah, everything, faculty to faculty, I’ve done faculty to staff, staff, to staff, staff to student, student to student, student to faculty, I mean, it’s — we really offer the services across the university.

David:
Okay, beautiful. So, Amanda, your turn, your position at Naropa is being the Senior Director of the Mission, Culture and Inclusive — Inclusive community, also known as the MCIC. I usually have trouble saying that sometimes, but we get it out. Could you tell us what the role is of you being in the MCIC at Naropa? And what your responsibilities are?

Amanda Aguilera:
Jamelah Zidan:
Hmm, it’s a good question. You know, my role has evolved over time. MCIC is actually a really new division. It was created, post the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, there was a push for more closer alignment with our values and our mission. We were also in a process as a university creating a new mission statement, purpose statement, those things —

David:
Which I’ve read, it was really good.

David:
Yeah. So that was, you know, a couple year long process. So, there was some restructuring that happened due to a lot of different reasons. And we created this new division. And Regina, and I, you know, brought in some offices that weren’t previously in the same division. So, it includes the Center for the Advancement of contemplative education, also known as CACE. The Sustainability Office, Michael Bauer, and the Joanna Macy Center, and the justice, equity, diversity inclusion work, which was previously the office for inclusive community. And then — and then restorative community, which was created when this division was created.

David:
Wow. Okay. So, when you were saying you’re here for the community, you weren’t lying. And it’s really cool to see the collaboration. So, it seems like your department has a very collaborative aspect to it, and how — is there any other programs like obviously, the student body, the faculty body, the teachers, and then you have all these different missions that you’re working with too. It’s very nice to hear that.

Amanda Aguilera:
Yeah, it’s really, it’s really fun, too, because it — each of these offices within the division really point directly to pieces of the mission statement, you know, so, yeah, it’s — it’s keeping alive that original and ever evolving vision, the uniqueness that is Naropa.

David:
Okay, so just the thought I was having, how has the mission statement changed from what it was to what it is?

Amanda Aguilera:
Hmm, that’s a good question.

David:
What —what was some of the reworking that you needed to work on? What were some things that stayed? What were some things that are like, oh, now we got to take that out?

Amanda Aguilera:
Well, it was actually a university wide process. So, our, you know, our division, started working on it and really started with, you know, and we had hours and hours together, but it was always a group of us that was — that was looking at it. And, you know, we wanted to bring in kind of the evolution, particularly around what’s needed in the world now, in terms of how Naropa can engage and change the world. You know, we’ve always been change makers. But I think there was, you know, specific things that got named, that weren’t previously named that I think were really helpful. We didn’t have values before. And I think those really helped to elucidate kind of the different aspects of it. And then we, you know, we kind of came up with a draft, and then we passed it along, we passed it to the entire university and said, you know, give us some feedback. And lots of people gave feedback.

David:
Which doesn’t normally happen in higher education, to write a mission statement and to ask faculty and staff to be like, what do you think so far? Okay.

Amanda Aguilera:
And then — yeah totally. And then it went to the board. And they kind of voted on the final language, the Board of Trustees.

David:
Great. Amazing. Okay. So, here’s the fun stuff. So, you both are here on the podcast to speak about restorative community concepts. And since you are both here together, it’s obvious there’s a collaborative working relationship. I’m curious to know how the work is interwoven with each other? And how does it create a dynamic culture for Naropa? So how do you integrate the work that you both do together?

Jamelah Zidan:
When folks come to me with conflict, a lot of things can get brought up for them. And it can also bring up things for me. So, I’m a woman of color, I’m Muslim, different socio — it’s different place, status and role power comes into play. And so, Amanda is really a guide for when I feel like I’m not looking at this fairly, or as neutrally as I can be. Or if I’m feeling like, oh, I’m getting — I don’t know, I don’t want to say triggered, it’s not triggered.

David:
Or bias.

Jamelah Zidan:
Or bias, if I have a bias against, you know, one or the other thing, which I try to be conscious of it, but Amanda is really a thought partner for like, hey, man, I’m having real trouble understanding the student or supporting the student, like, can you? Can you guide me, and Amanda has a wealth of knowledge and read so many books, and just usually has the right thing to say, or the right question to ask me to get me to think in a deeper, more compassionate way? I think that — yeah, does that — is that — yeah, I feel like you’re often guiding me in a wise compassionate way. So —

Amanda Aguilera:
Yeah. And I feel like I don’t have to do much guiding just because Jamelah has a natural way. And she came in and just kind of just knew what to do, and just knew how to do it. I would say, in our day to day interactions, I think we both are very close to restorative principles. And so, I think we’ve kind of naturally orient that way, which really helps us to do the work. It doesn’t feel far, like a reach for us.

David:
Yeah. Okay. How I’m sort of hearing it and seeing it is Amanda, you — you’re like the — you’re the person who deals with organizational functionality? And then Jamelah, you deal with the person to person engaging the conversation space holding?

Jamelah Zidan:
I wish it was like that clear cut. We both do, both. Yeah — yeah, definitely. Folks will often ask us as to be thought partners in conflicts or problems that they’re having. So, it won’t lead to a restorative conversation. But they’ll be you know, what — what do we think about this from a restorative lens. And — and I was just thinking, another part of how we interact with each other, while we’re both very close to those restorative principles, we’re both human beings. So, when we’re frustrated, we know that we can joke with each other and be like, oh, I give up, you know, that kind of thing. And it’s not, you know, we can laugh with it and support each other to return to our highest values, you know.

Amanda Aguilera:
Which is actually really restorative, right? Is like just acknowledging the humanity and the messiness and the mistakes and the imperfections and just being okay with that and saying, now what?

David:
And I think one thing to note is, the people who are holding the space, they’re people, they have things come up, it kind of weighs on them to deal with some like heavy situations. And I love the fact that you can work with each other and ask, like, am I being biased? Am I being fair? Because sometimes, our opinions do stick out a little bit. So, it’s really nice to have a thought partner or somebody that’s got your back and who has read a lot of books.

Jamelah Zidan:
So many books.

Amanda Aguilera:
So many books. I have an addiction.

Jamelah Zidan:
It’s a problem.

Amanda Aguilera:
It’s a problem.

David:
Get a girl. I want to read more, it’s just difficult nowadays. It’s almost like people read to me, you know, it’s more audio based. But restorative is a word that has been heard lately in the contemplative space a lot these days. And it has an idea of a healthy rebuilding sense of action. And I’m curious when we hear the word restorative community or restorative justice, what is it we are actually meaning in and how does the idea and the act of being restorative impact the community in which we’re involved in?

Amanda Aguilera:
I’m going to try to break that down a little bit.

David:
Please do.

Amanda Aguilera:
And I think a lot of terms get conflated because people don’t really understand what’s — what’s restorative community? What’s restorative justice? And how are those related? So restorative justice comes actually from ancient practices by indigenous peoples, because, you know, in tribal communities, they don’t have like jails to put people in, right? You have to actually maintain relationship, even when there’s like, harm or conflict or so you have to maintain relationship and that’s central to the process. And I think those practices were what really inspired restorative justice as it’s known in the West. Restorative justice began kind of in institutions, like in justice systems, for example, in New Zealand, their entire youth justice system is restorative justice. And then, over the years, over probably the last 30 years or so, it’s become now a social science. That’s called restorative practices. So restorative practices is the umbrella and restorative justice is under that umbrella. And there’s a lot of other things under that umbrella. So, it’s not just formal processes inside the justice system. It’s now things like restorative conversations, like we were talking about before. And it’s really integrating restorative principles in how we interact with each other. So just like we were talking about seeing the humaneness, that’s a really central part of restorative practices, because what we’re saying is, we’re not going to throw you away, if you mess up, we’re not going to cancel you, if you harm, we’re going to actually help you to take responsibility, and support you in doing that, and help you and support you in making repair so that we can move forward.

David:
Yeah, and we have no idea because the person might just be having a bad day, and they kind of screwed up, so they did to something that impacted someone else’s experience. So, it’s really good, we don’t want to throw people away.

Amanda Aguilera:
And actually, it’s really easy to do that, though. You know, it’s really easy.

David:
There’s a culture of canceling nowadays, which didn’t exist a while back ago.

Amanda Aguilera:
Well, we didn’t call it canceling. But it’s always existed, right? Exclusionary practices, we’ve always come up with reasons like you don’t belong, or you no longer belong, or you never belonged, you know, this kind of very dualistic way of seeing the world is quite harmful. So, this is a way of acknowledging our interdependence. Knowing that we’re all going to mess up, we’re all going to be involved in conflict, we’re all going to cause harm.

Jamelah Zidan:
And that we’re all valuable. The interdependence is one of the major things like throwing someone away is — is taking someone out of the web of what we have as a community. And no matter what they’ve done, there’s something that they can offer, there’s something that they only can bring to the space. So, it’s not just helping to repair the harm for the person who’s been harmed, but for the sake of our community, like we all need and deserve that.

David:
Okay. So, I interviewed Regina, maybe like a week ago. And she said very profound, and I feel like you’re both kind of saying this is — is we have — our society has like a punishment based way of going about things and not a restorative. So, we’re so easy to be like, you’re bad, we must punish you. And it’s like, well wait a minute, maybe they’re punishing themselves because they did something they know that is wrong. So, I’m just like, wondering — seems as though a restorative has the non punishment, like, let’s figure it out before we do something that might affect someone’s life on a deeper sense.

Amanda Aguilera:
Yeah. And, you know, it’s — it’s one of many ways that we can respond to harm. I think punishment is one way that you can respond to harm. And I think there are times where people may need to be somewhere else to create safety in the community. Right? But I think that the opportunity in the restorative frame and we can talk about transformative justice, which is one step beyond, but I think the opportunity is to step back and say, when we respond in a punitive way, what is the cost long term? What are we actually adding to the situation and taking away and usually when someone causes harm, there’s a lot of shame that happens. And so that shame gets magnified when there’s punishment. And then when there’s shame, we tend to respond and several in different ways, and then we tend to be out of alignment with ourselves and others, which leads to more harm and more conflict. So, responding intentionally with restorative practice, we say it’s doing things with them instead of to them. It actually cultivates more responsibility instead of less. I think a lot of people assume that restorative practices is just, oh, where you’re just letting them off the hook.

Jamelah Zidan:
We’re sitting in a circle.

Amanda Aguilera:
Yes.

Amanda Aguilera:
Singing Kumbaya, or something. That’s what people imagine is like —

David:
Wait, you don’t do that?

Jamelah Zidan:
We do sit in circles. It does happen.

Amanda Aguilera:
Right, and sometimes we might sing, but — but yeah, the — it’s actually a lot more challenging. To sit in a process with someone — sit across from someone that you’ve harmed. Hear about how they’ve been impacted by your words or actions, and take responsibility for it, and then seek together with the person you harmed to make it right. That takes a lot more courage and —

Jamelah Zidan:
Resilience.

Amanda Aguilera:
Responsibility.

David:
It’s also like developing the characteristics that enhance somebody’s being.

Amanda Aguilera:
Yes, exactly.

David:
To be able to do that, because that’s not fun.

Amanda Aguilera:
Yeah.

Jamelah Zidan:
When I talk about restorative practices to folks who are unfamiliar with that, I often use the example everyone, almost everyone can think of a time when they’ve been shamed by a teacher or an adult when they were children. And they can remember what that felt like, and how it didn’t resolve anything, and how it most likely taught them the opposite of how to be a good community member. It probably taught them next time I do this, I will do it sneakier, or you know it, I’ll hide it. Whereas a restorative lens in the classroom can look like this is your classroom, you belong here. How are you going to be a part of this community? And it teaches — when it’s done in schools, it teaches students to really love where they are and believe fully and deeply that this is their world, this is their classroom. They can make what they want to see happen.

David:
Seems like the other side to restorative is destructive. So, it’s like are we building or are we destroying?

Amanda Aguilera:
Well, I would say the other side is controlling, you know.

Jamelah Zidan:
Stagnation.

Amanda Aguilera:
I mean, the point of, the reason why we punish is, it’s out of fear, right? And we don’t want things to get out of hand. We don’t want things to be unsafe. And so, we tighten and we react, and we try to control. That response is just passed down generation after generation. But there’s an — there’s another way.

David:
Yeah. Okay, beautiful. So restorative, in a sense, has the idea of taking the foundational work of something and making it better or function properly within a diverse system. So why is there an importance on focusing on the repairing the damage that certain relationships have suffered, instead of leaving them alone and starting a new system altogether? So instead of — instead of being like, okay, well, this isn’t working, let’s start a new — restorative is working with something that may not be working, but trying to make it work.

Jamelah Zidan:
That leads into transformative, right — transformative justice?

Amanda Aguilera:
Yeah, you know, so the reparations right, are really hard to do. It’s really hard to face, even something that you might not have been directly responsible for, but because of your role, or where you find yourself now you — you actually are responsible. And so, reparations are very challenging, because we’re not taught to take responsibility, or how to take responsibility or what that means about us. And so, I think the temptation is to, you know, throw it away and start something new, which is actually quite colonialist, in my view, right? It’s destroy and replace. And so, it’s really saying, no, we can’t keep destroying and replacing. We have to actually work with what we have. There are views that will what we’re working with and how we’re going to approach repairing is also causing harm. So, we need a new system altogether. And so that’s where transformative justice comes in.

Jamelah Zidan:
Yeah, transformative justice is really looking at the system and how can it evolve and how can it bring everyone along with us. I haven’t heard any transformative people being like burn it all down, start again. Because the harm that would happen in that would be so immense and maybe not able to be repaired. Why not leave this — because the system is us, we are the system. People will be left behind if — if we burn it all down and start again.

David:
Yeah. And I think it’s easy to be like, oh, the system did me wrong, but then not realizing there’s parts of the system that are very functional, and they do work. So, you know, it’s probably not good to throw it away. But there are probably some situations where we could enhance a better way of dealing with.

Amanda Aguilera:
So much. Yeah, the systems piece is the largest thing that’s missing, across restorative practices, that we’re not talking about power, and how that influences how we show up in conflict or how we harm each other. We have to start talking about power. And we have to start talking about how systems influence the interpersonal dynamics. To me, that’s like marrying restorative practices with transformative.

David:
Like, there’s some psychology going on in there.

Jamelah Zidan:
Sorry. I did a little.

David:
That’s important, though, that’s very important, because we are, you know, we’re conscious beings and therapy, restorative practices are going to have a psychological approach to it. It’s not just social. So, okay — so we can see how the health of individuals and the community as an entity can be affected by the events and things that happen within it. But by experiencing traumatic situations, it has the ability to impact our emotional well being. So why do you think it is important to understand the social emotional development and the health amongst the community? So, you know, like, kind of knowing what’s going on, and then how to enhance a community to have practices and or spaces in which we can have more of a healing application?

Amanda Aguilera:
Yeah. So, I think one of the things that we’re wanting to develop in MCiC are communities of practice, instead of this kind of, you know, one dimensional, I’m a teacher and your student, and I’m going to teach you something. And out of communities of practice, I think we can come together to practice together, we can share knowledge, and we can share experience. And I think one of those things is that the social aspects, when I was talking about power before, is understanding how different people are impacted based on social location, and how they show up in their bodies in certain spaces, and how they — how we show up in our emotions, and our ability to regulate, right, regulate our emotions. It’s really challenging to — to have a restorative conversation, when people are dis-regulated. Alright, so first learning, how do we actually be in our bodies. And do we need to pause so we can actually self regulate before we come together?

David:
Not always something we know how to do already.

Amanda Aguilera:
Right, can we teach this in schools, please?

Jamelah Zidan:
I mean, I tried.

David:
I guess that’s the contemplative approach. That’s what I took out of my education here at Naropa was feelings matter. And they impact how we engage with people, how we engage with our community, and how we engage with education itself. So, it’s very important. I’m also hearing like, you know, because if we have practices that aren’t being used to — because something happened, and then we do it, we’re doing it to prevent, how often is it proactive to reactive?

Amanda Aguilera:
Ideally, restorative practices would be a majority of the time proactive. So, what that means is building community, having deep connection with each other, talking to each other, being a community of practice. So ideally, it would be mostly proactive, and the reactive side where we have a restorative conversation would happen rarely, because folks will be in the practice of stating what they’re feeling, what they need, expressing what the impact was regularly, that would be a normal part of our make conflict regular that we’re talking about conflict and it’s easy.

Jamelah Zidan:
Yeah, much easier to have hard conversations, or even just give and receive feedback when there’s a foundation of trust. It’s a lot easier to tell someone a hard thing when you have a relationship.

David:
Yeah, it’s definitely a unique space to be in. But it has a lot of healing potential. And so, you know, we’re talking about idealic. But what is actual like, how, what do you see in this work? Is it mostly proactive for you?

Jamelah Zidan:
Is it?

Amanda Aguilera:
Well, we could talk about systems, but I think the system that we’re in kind of influences our capacity there. I think we try to do all — all forms at the same time. So, we encourage — so we do workshops and trainings around proactive practices, like connection circles that build relationships and build trust. We also do give and receiving feedback training. So that’s like the relationship maintaining stuff.

David:
Ooh, okay.

Amanda Aguilera:
And then we also do the here’s how to have the difficult conversation. So, we’re doing trainings across the board. And I think we’re trying to create opportunities for all of those. I think mostly people don’t get the importance of the trust building, the relationship building and so I think fewer people show up for that.

Jamelah Zidan:
And I think a lot of that is — has to do with society being like, I mean, it’s capitalism —

Amanda Aguilera:
We have stuff to do.

Jamelah Zidan:
Yeah, we have stuff to do. We have, you know, and — and this is, you know, just another hour in my day, and I don’t have time to build relationship with the person that I have a meeting with, like, it’s a hard cultural change to really value relationships.

David:
Yeah. Wow. Okay. And what’s interesting is, I feel like that narrative is becoming more brighter. We’re seeing the importance of the relationship, of how we treat each other, how we treat ourselves, how we treat content, you know, so it’s becoming very important nowadays. Because — or else we’re just like, time is money. It’s like, oh, time is our feelings too. Like you know, like, there’s many things in time.

Jamelah Zidan:
Yes.

David:
So, when working with a restorative application, what are some of the types of conflicts that you come across? So, we talked about, like, we talked about the who, sometimes is students students, student teachers, student faculty, faculty faculty, you know, like, there’s all these, like, different variations of how it shows up. But is there a consistent narrative of the issue that does show up? Is it like, oh, they said something mean to me or oh they’re kind of racist. You know, and they just didn’t know it. Is there a consistent issue that comes up or are they like, always uniquely different?

Amanda Aguilera:
Well, they are always uniquely different. But we also see a lot of a lot of JEDI issues. So that’s justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.

David:
Okay.

Amanda Aguilera:
And often —

David:
We love our acronyms.

Amanda Aguilera:
Yes, we do.

Jamelah Zidan:
My first week here I was like, what is there? Okay.

David:
You got a packet.

Jamelah Zidan:
Yeah. So, a lot of the conflicts do come from folks who are marginalized. I hate that.

Amanda Aguilera:
Historically marginalized.

Jamelah Zidan:
Historically marginalized, and folks who are a power, doing things or saying things or maintaining the status quo that impacts and causes harm. The other I guess, would be, boundaries being crossed are pretty regular. And oftentimes, we — so we are always looking to make sure that both parties can take some responsibility, because it — you know, it takes two to tango.

David:
Yeah.

Jamelah Zidan:
So —

David:
Emotionally.

Jamelah Zidan:
Emotionally, yes. So, we are looking for accountability that way. And sometimes it’s not appropriate to have a restorative conversation, if it seems like this is just straight up transphobia. And there’s nothing better, you know, but in that case, we would talk to the person who caused harm. We would kind of coach them and — and like give them a small mini training or keep checking in with them and being like, this is — this is what’s going on, you know, so —

David:
Social probation. I don’t know. Maybe not those words, they seem a little —

Jamelah Zidan:
It’s more like helping them create new pathways in their mind.

David:
Yeah.

Jamelah Zidan:
I don’t know if it’s you that told me that it’s like, we’re going down on a sled in snow. And if you keep going down that same snowy hill, that path gets easier and easier and easier. So, it’s really assisting folks on like picking a new path. And this is — it’s gonna be harder. Yes. And we’re gonna work with you to make that happen.

Amanda Aguilera:
Yeah, I think there’s so many different developmental stages in terms of equity consciousness. And so, you know, with our commune members of color, it’s really important that we’re not putting them in a situation where they’re going to — be harmed again. So, you know, working with people at different stages of equity consciousness, it’s challenging, because the earlier stages are just not acknowledging that there’s a problem. So, it can be really challenging in those instances to work. And that’s, you know, again, where systems come in place. How are we as a system choosing to hold certain people accountable? We can coach all day long, but at the end of the day, what’s actually going to happen if people continue to cause harm in that way?

David:
Yeah. I mean, if we do not integrate, then what are we actually doing? We just listen. I feel like I’ve been through some really heavy moments in my life, like emotionally, and I’ve had to show up and it hurts so good. And what I’ve done to help these certain situations because I feel like I’ve gotten better during conflict moments and or like speaking my peace, and my truth is I do this thing where I ask my head what it wants to say and then I asked my heart, and my heart is always compassionate. It’s like I love you, but here’s some things that I get triggered by or things that I don’t like. My head is like, screw that. Why did you do that to me, you know, it has like such a different way of going about the conflict but I’ve always noticed that like, these two things like to say different things, and I — what I want my words to do, I want my words to meet in the middle of like, I feel hurt and offended and like, I’m kind of gonna be, you know, maybe not super nice to you. But then I have like — I care for you. And I know you have love in your heart. And I know you want to do well. But you know, I gotta say, what’s — what’s going on?

Jamelah Zidan:
The ideal? That’s what — yeah, that’s what we want.

David:
You got to have a filter before — before you say, think.

Amanda Aguilera:
Yeah, and I think there’s an ability to — to hold complexity, that’s also really important, because all of that exists in you. And all of that is important to notice and to understand. We — you know, we help — we have self reflection worksheets and other resources, where we help people to kind of name those things, even if they’re, like, raw and intense, and because if you don’t name them, and are — and are aware of them then they’re going to come out and unhealthy ways, right. So —

Jamelah Zidan:
And restorative conferences are not — people can get angry and share and cry. And the point is that I think everyone at the end of the day wants to be seen and wants to be understood. And that allows — a restorative conversation allows both people to be seen and understood, hopefully, that’s what would happen.

David:
Yeah, respected. And the thing is, is being respected might show up differently to different people, too. So, it’s like, you don’t really know until you know, the person I guess. Beautiful. So, with the restorative work that you both do, have you noticed the shift in spaces being created for effective healing and conversations? And why is the restorative method different than ignoring it altogether never addressing these types of situations?

Jamelah Zidan:
Ignoring it altogether, always comes back to bite you. It will never — it will out, it will come up again, somehow.

David:
And we don’t like to be bitten.

Jamelah Zidan:
No. And I mean, I don’t know what it was like before I got here. But I have been invited to groups that need to have conversations, whole classes who have requested a restorative circle. So, they’re having a whole group issue in the dorm. Also being invited to help, you know, build up community and resilience and understanding of each other. So, I have seen those spaces happening while I’m here. But I’ve only been here six months.

Amanda Aguilera:
Yep. I was doing the same work before you got here. Same, you know, individuals and groups and classes and cohorts. And —

Jamelah Zidan:
And I’m excited to see professors asking for — for help. I feel like sometimes professors might feel like restorative communities, we’re here to punish you. You’ve been bad. And that’s not the case at all.

Amanda Aguilera:
Yeah. And I think the default is to avoid conflict, to avoid, right, that’s the default, because in our lives, we’re not taught how to handle conflict in a generative way. So, most of us, when we think of conflict, we think pain, or we think separation or exclusion. So, it’s just a natural response to want to avoid — avoid that. But it’s actually really an ineffective for all the —

Jamelah Zidan:
And I think it’s a part of supremacy culture too, to avoid conflict. Because I know as an air of — I love, I’m like, yes, let’s fight. If I’m fighting with you, it means I really like care for you deeply. Like, let’s have a conflict. We’re like buying into — I don’t know, white supremacy by being like, there’s nothing’s wrong here. Nothing’s wrong. We’re fine. We’re good.

Amanda Aguilera:
Or we have a lot to do. So yeah. It’d be nice to work this out. But we have other things — we don’t have time, right now.

David:
Time is money. We got stuff to do. All right. I’ve also never heard someone say they like arguing or getting in conflict. I kind of like that, in a way. Like, I like the fact that we can disagree and love each other and just be like, ah, you know.

Jamelah Zidan:
I think we forget that we’re animals, and that there’s —

David:
Wait, what.

Jamelah Zidan:
Yeah, we forget that we’re animals. And like, when I think of like fighting with my husband, it’s often like, I feel like we’re playing like, we’re wolves, you know, and we’re playing with each other. And if we maybe bite a little too hard, then we stop and we’re like, oh, okay, regroup, like wait a minute. Here’s — here’s what we missed in that — in that argument. And I don’t know, debate is fun.

Amanda Aguilera:
Yeah. And there’s like conflict allows diversity to actually be present, right, like, defining conflict is the presence of different needs, beliefs, expectations, or commitments. If those are all allowed to be present, then conflict is inevitable. You know, so if we’re really creating an environment where diversity can thrive, conflict has to be dealt with in a generative way, and we have to know how to do that. You know?

David:
Yeah, conflict is part of it. Yeah, I’m almost hearing like it’s a — it’s a really good transformational tool, but it’s not the direction we normally want to go in. But it does show up.

Amanda Aguilera:
Right.

David:
So, dealing with it consciously. Being responsible, and an adult about how you feel is very important nowadays. Okay, so how important is it to create a culture willing to receive feedback going to shift the experience of the community? And what is needed for this to happen successfully? So, you sort of mentioned like, when you do have a conflict, both parties have to agree upon it, or else it doesn’t really work out. Is there any other standards that need to happen to make that?

Jamelah Zidan:
Yeah, folks who are a power — is that — I mean, folks who have higher — more responsibilities, so folks who are profess — you know, in a place —

Amanda Aguilera:
More role power.

Jamelah Zidan:
More role power, they have to accept that the feedback that comes from people they’re responsible for doesn’t mean they’re a bad person, it means that they’re — they have needs that need to be met. So, Amanda is my supervisor, and something has gone wrong. I giving feedback to Amanda isn’t saying Amanda is a bad person, it’s saying, Amanda, I need help with this, or Amanda, this need of mine is not being met. And so having people in up role power to realize that and recognize that.

Amanda Aguilera:
Right. And from up role approval power, I’m understanding that, because I have that responsibility. And I know, it’s much more difficult for someone who’s down power from me, like a student or an employee, it’s much more challenging to give feedback to someone who can fire you or, you know, has the power to promote you or demote you or any of those things. So, I intentionally work on receiving feedback as a practice. And I also intentionally invite feedback in any form. And I make that really clear from the beginning.

Jamelah Zidan:
My interview, Amanda told me feedback in any form is welcome. So —

David:
You normally don’t hear people say that.

David:
I know what I’m hearing is like you’re insulated, if you’re in a place of power, in a sense, it’s like people are hesitant to speak their — their needs or their peace.

Amanda Aguilera:
Yeah. And from my view, how are you going to grow?

David:
Exactly.

Amanda Aguilera:
How are you going to grow?

David:
What are you trying to do over here? You’re trying to grow or are you trying to like stay put? No, we want to grow. So, what are — what are some of the common practices or exercises that would take place in the restorative process work? So, like, what — is it always conversation? You said something about, you know, maybe singing or something — I don’t know, what — what are some of the practices that you do while you’re implementing the restorative work?

Jamelah Zidan:
Self reflection, lots of self reflection, either guided by conversation, or we have a worksheet that we use as well.

David:
We love the worksheet.

Jamelah Zidan:
We love the worksheets. Receiving feedback, we practice, we have workshops, where we give feedback to each other and think about how does that feel in our body? How does that land? What do you have to do to regulate if it was difficult feedback? What else do we do?

Amanda Aguilera:
Well, in the restorative conversation itself, there’s a very particular order that we invite things to unfold in. And that’s very intentional, it’s been developed over many generations. So, it really allows everyone to have equal voice, you know, and it allows for people to share impact and feelings. And it allows everyone to think about what is my piece in this? What is my responsibility in this? One of the things that we’ve started to do too at Naropa, is, you know, integrating these pieces about thinking about power. So, in this conversation with these two people, how does power show up? And how will that impact the conversation? And we talk about that explicitly. And I think the next phase is — is talking about systems? How our system is showing up in this interpersonal conflict, and what do we do about that? So, I think there’s — there’s different types of processes depending on the situation. But the elements from restorative principles are always present in all the practices.

David:
There’s something that you just said that I’m thinking about, and it’s really cool is the importance of having a space for feedback. Because if we’re just reactive, and we’re getting feedback in that space, but like, we don’t tend to, I don’t know, maybe there’s like a monthly meeting of feedback.

Amanda Aguilera:
Totally.

David:
I really liked how you did that. It doesn’t always have to be cutting you down or making you feel a little queasy inside or something. But it could be just a monthly feedback symposium.

Amanda Aguilera:
Absolutely. I love that you brought that idea up. I mean, you can do this in partnerships, families, organizations, staff meetings, where you have an intentional timer that you set aside, where we give and receive feedback and that’s a practice. And it’s intentional, and we do it, even if we don’t have feedback, we still do it. Because our tendency is to not give it. And because it’s, you know, especially if there’s power dynamics in the room, it’s really hard to kind of make a space for that yourself.

David:
Yeah.

Jamelah Zidan:
Imagine how different families would be if they had feedback meetings,

David:
I know, I want this! I got feedback. That’s so beautiful, okay. And also, I feel like, if we did have a space where we can feedback and we got really good at doing it, then some of the stuff that we would have to deal with in a restorative practice probably wouldn’t come up because we are mindful of how it affects others because I think most of the time is we are not conscious enough to realize, we’re like not being nice to someone or we’re not playing fair, or I don’t know, just something’s going off. Then it seems very ego based.

Jamelah Zidan:
You’re hired?

Amanda Aguilera:
Yes, that’s exactly — that’s exactly —

Jamelah Zidan:
Yes. The more — the more the community is able to give feedback, receive it, grow from it, the less — there will still, of course, always be conflicts, because we’re different kinds of human beings.

David:
Well, you like that.

Jamelah Zidan:
I love that. But yeah, it would be a different world if everyone was willing to listen and hear.

Amanda Aguilera:
And make that investment on the front end. Yeah, it takes more time. Yeah, we’re going to talk about feelings. Yeah, most of us don’t know how to do it well, but can we be willing to be messy together, take the time to do it. So that further down the road, we don’t have these massive things, massive, you know, mistrust and conflict that derail projects and derail you know, where we’re trying to go together.

Jamelah Zidan:
And when the conflict does come, we have the trust to be vulnerable with each other, and sit across from each other and say, because we’ve already built this relationship, we’ve practiced it.

David:
Yeah. And you have more of a loving sense, because you’re like, hey, you know, something’s coming up, but I still care for you. And I like the work that you do. And it seems easier to deal with. And I mean, who knows, maybe it doesn’t take longer. It just — it’s front loaded.

David:
Front loaded, exactly. Yeah, I think it actually saves time in the long run.

David:
Probably saves a lot more.

Amanda Aguilera:
Saves money in the long run.

David:
And that — ultimately time is money, right?

Amanda Aguilera:
Yes, right. But you have to have a bigger view to see that.

David:
Yes, holistic views. Beautiful. Okay. So that’s pretty much everything I wanted to ask you. But I just wanted to provide this last moment, is there anything else you’d like to say to our audience about your work that you do about Naropa?

Amanda Aguilera:
Yeah, come and join us. Like your — the invitation is open even to alum — alumx. So, people who are former students, we — you can volunteer. You can get trained for free. The resources are there and available. Yeah.

Jamelah Zidan:
What are our next workshops are —

Amanda Aguilera:
The art of giving and receiving feedback. And —

David:
There’s an art to it.

Jamelah Zidan:
Yes, there is. Yes. Amanda…are leading that. And then I’m hosting a workshop based on Betalin, which is a Jewish School of Theology from like 2000 years ago had a very particular way of debating, and we’re gonna practice debating compassionately with each other.

Amanda Aguilera:
And there’s solution circle training —

Jamelah Zidan:
And for doing solution circle training.

Amanda Aguilera:
Yes. But there’s always trainings you know, happening. So —

David:
Gotta get trained properly, though. That’s the goal.

Jamelah Zidan:
Yes. And practice.

Amanda Aguilera:
Practice is the best thing.

David:
Skillfully receiving feedback. Well, beautiful. I really appreciate you both coming on and talking about everything that you know, everything that you’ve experienced, and just your knowledge in general. And I just appreciate you speaking with us today. So, thank you so much.

BOTH:
Thank you for having us.

[MUSIC]

On behalf of the Naropa community, thank you for listening to Mindful U. The official podcast of Naropa University. Check us out at http://www.naropa.edu or follow us on social media for more updates.

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