Zehr Institute named after ‘grandfather of restorative justice’

Former students praise Howard Zehr for his long-time peacebuilding efforts

January 16, 2013 | God at work in the World | Number 2
By Lora Steiner and Bonnie Price Lofton | Eastern Mennonite University
Howard Zehr, widely known as the ‘grandfather of restorative justice,’ will co-lead the Zehr Institute of Restorative Justice at the Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, Harrisonburg, Va. Zehr will step aside from his teaching responsibilities at EMU following the spring 2013 semester.

Howard Zehr, widely known as the “grandfather of restorative justice,” will step aside from his teaching role at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) after the spring 2013 semester and begin co-leading the newly established Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice.

The leaders of EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP) announced the founding of the Zehr Institute at the end of the fall 2012 semester, after persuading Zehr to let the institute carry his name. They also asked Zehr to remain a faculty member in a non-teaching role with the title of Distinguished Professor of Restorative Justice.

Zehr has taught restorative justice at CJP since 1996; he also served as CJP’s co-director from 2001-07.

Zehr, who shies away from the word “retirement,” says he always planned to stop teaching before he lost his edge, and he wants to make space for others to step in. “Sometimes the only way you can do that,” he says, “is to get out of the way.”

The Zehr Institute will spread knowledge about restorative justice and be a resource to practitioners, while facilitating conversations and cultivating connections through activities like conferences and webinars, according to CJP executive director Lynn Roth. The institute will be co-directed by Zehr and Carl Stauffer, assistant professor of development and justice studies at CJP.

Zehr and Stauffer say they intend for the institute to offer space to explore “frontier” topics, like the intersection of the arts and peacebuilding, and the ways that trauma and restorative justice are connected. They plan for it to tap the expertise of practitioners who aren’t scholars, but have much to offer. And although the institute will not focus on academia, Stauffer believes it will benefit graduate students by growing a program in which students are not only taught the skills of restorative justice, but are trained to see and respond to larger systemic issues. Restorative justice, both Stauffer and Zehr believe, is not a just a social service, but a social movement.

Alerted by e-mail that Zehr is wrapping up his formal teaching career, former students have responded with appreciative messages:

  • Fadi El Hajjar, a 2006 master’s graduate of CJP who manages a United Nations project in Lebanon, praised Zehr for his “considerable contribution . . . to the peacebuilding world through teaching, training and writing.”
  • Mack Mulbah, a 2009 graduate working for Women Peace and Security Network, Africa, wrote , “I am sure you will be missed in the classroom, but glad that your new journey will open more doors for further moving [restorative justice] to another level for us practitioners.”

As he moves to quarter-time employment at EMU, Zehr is looking forward to a schedule where he spends less time in meetings and more time with another passion of his: photography.

Howard Zehr, widely known as the ‘grandfather of restorative justice,’ will co-lead the Zehr Institute of Restorative Justice at the Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, Harrisonburg, Va. Zehr will step aside from his teaching responsibilities at EMU following the spring 2013 semester.

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