A group of Brandeis School of Law students spent their spring break in Belize with Dean Susan Duncan as part of the University of Louisville’s International Service Learning Program. While there, the law students took a course on restorative justice – taught by Dean Duncan – exploring whether it meets the needs of this population better than more traditional models of punishment when addressing conflict.
Dean Duncan is the only UofL Dean to participate in the program. This was her second year leading a group of law students to Belize.
“I participate in the ISLP because I enjoy incorporating service learning opportunities with legal doctrine. Restorative Justice is practiced worldwide so it is perfectly suited for this international trip. Exposing law students to different cultures and legal systems will make them better lawyers and people. I find the trip very impactful and rewarding for all of us,” Dean Duncan said.
Laura Mercer, director of the ISLP, said Dean Duncan’s participation says a lot for the program.
“It shows a big buy-in that (Dean Duncan) not only endorses this program, but she participates in it. I think it’s fantastic that she does it,” said Laura Mercer, director of the ISLP.
Prior to the trip, Dean Duncan tasked the law students with developing presentations and interactive exercises to teach both the children at the local schools and the prison guards at Belize Central Prison about the benefits and uses of restorative justice in repairing harms within their communities.
Law student Megan Conroy said the trip exceeded her expectations.
“I’ve always enjoyed travel, so I knew I would enjoy sightseeing the country of Belize,” she said. “However, it was the service aspect of this trip that really impacted me … I definitely believe that visits by students to underprivileged communities spread goodwill and foster good relations between countries.”
Conroy said the older children they met were receptive to the concept of restorative justice.
“They appeared to appreciate restorative justice’s potential to work through conflict at home and school,” she said. “The prison staff were also very encouraged by the concept and felt the process would be beneficial to juvenile offenders.”
Katherine Vail said she was “happily surprised” by her experience.
“I began my trip with the belief that we would be bringing light and love to the country through our community projects. I was happily surprised to see how reciprocal it would be. What I found particularly astounding was the culture there is already very grounded in kindness toward your fellow countrymen,” she said.
Ryan Maxwell said the timing of the trip was personally beneficial.
“When I began my law school career I was motivated to become prepared through a legal education and be a maximum service to my community. However, this motivation was put on the back-burner when keeping my head above water became a more pressing priority,” he said. “After spending time in Belize educating children and prison staff, the perspective I entered law school with came back to me with full force.”
That perspective, he added, is, “The more you think of others, the less you think of yourself and because of this the gift that you receive is happiness and fulfillment.”