At a time when the country is focused intensely on social justice and potential police reform, Spalding University has hired Dr. Cicely J. Cottrell – a scholar on restorative justice, the school-to-prison pipeline and the use of force by law enforcement – as the new director of its undergraduate Criminal Justice Studies program.

Cottrell, who began at Spalding on July 1, 2020, most recently served from 2017-20 as Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at Chowan University in North Carolina. The Harlan, Kentucky, native holds a doctorate in sociology and criminology from Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Now directed by Cottrell, the Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Studies program at Spalding was launched in 2019 with a focus on restorative practices and criminal justice reform. While criminal justice programs are ubiquitous at colleges and universities, Spalding’s curriculum is believed to be one of the few in Kentucky, if not the nation, to emphasize restorative justice.

Cottrell has collaborated on multiple research articles relevant to issues of social justice and policing that are at the forefront of our national dialogue. The topics of her work include the use of deadly force by police, so-called stop-and-frisk policies, the wearing of body cameras by police, and the effects of school suspensions on delinquency.

OVERVIEW | BS in Criminal Justice Studies program

“With her experience and passion for criminal justice reform and restorative justice, Dr. Cicely Cottrell will be an outstanding leader of our innovative criminal justice studies program,” Spalding President Tori Murden McClure said. “Spalding is committed to the promotion of social justice and systemic change, and this academic program is an example of that commitment. Led by Dr. Cottrell, this program will give future professionals in law enforcement, the courts, corrections and government an understanding of racial biases in our justice system while teaching ways the system can be improved and made more equitable.”

While completing her doctorate, Cottrell spent 2016 in Washington working as a policy fellow for the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, advising members of Congress and staff on criminal justice and civil rights policy, and assisting on drafting legislation, supporting communications and research materials.

Cottrell, who has also served as an instructor at Montgomery College in Maryland and as a teaching assistant at Howard, has additional interest in research and policy related to drug addiction, with a focus on compassionate approaches to rehabilitation.

Her other professional experience includes working for the Whitney M. Young, Jr. Job Corps Center, helping students achieve academic and career goals; for the Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts, monitoring conditional release cases; and for the Kentucky Department of Corrections, serving as a correctional officer. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Western Kentucky University and a master’s in administration of justice from the University of Louisville.

“What struck me about Spalding was reading about its mission and focus on compassion, peace and justice, and that aligns with my own values and what I teach my students,” Cottrell said. “Throughout my career, I’ve really learned that in our justice system there is a lot of focus on crime control and punishment, rather than on repairing harm and restoring relationships and providing resources toward rehabilitation. I’ve learned that a lot of compassion and forgiveness are needed when you are making decisions that impact someone’s freedom as well as their ability to provide for their basic needs to survive. Having the opportunity to work at an institution where these values are embedded, it’s not just me as a professor teaching these values to students; it’s the whole institution.”

Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) and Spalding University are teaming up to host a three-day summit to highlight and train educators on restorative justice practices.

The Restorative Justice Practices Training Summit, being held March 14-16 at Spalding, will educate school administrators, teachers, staff and school resource officers about the methods of restorative practice, a social science that seeks to manage conflict and tensions by repairing harm and restoring relationships.

“Restorative practice has been a valuable tool in guiding how we respond to conflict and misbehavior in the classroom while emphasizing safety and accountability,” JCPS Superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio said.  “Our ultimate goal is to utilize these strategies to decrease referrals and improve school attendance.”

JCPS has turned to intervention strategies such as restorative practice and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports in recent years to proactively manage student behavior.  The district implemented a restorative practice pilot at 10 schools this fall, with another eight schools to be added in the 2018-19 school year.  Preliminary data indicate that restorative practice elementary and high schools were outperforming the district on suspension incidents, suspension days and in-school suspensions, while two of the three middle schools in the pilot have shown recent improvements in the suspension data.

“We look forward to hosting JCPS leaders and resource officers on our campus to learn more about restorative practices,” Spalding President Tori Murden McClure said. “At Spalding, we’ve made restorative practices a priority and believe they are a thoughtful, compassionate way to manage conflicts and build community. Spalding has implemented restorative techniques and methods on our campus to help find solutions and understanding in a range of settings.”

The first day of the conference is designed for professionals who work in K-12 educational settings and are interested in finding ways to implement restorative practice in their schools.

School resource officers will take part in the second and third days of the conference, which will include training and offer examples on how to utilize authority in restorative ways. The focus will be on fostering positive relationships with students and how to implement talking circles – controlled group conversations designed to promote dialogue about difficult topics and offer all parties equal time to talk freely in a safe setting.

In some cases, restorative practices are also being used as an alternative to the traditional criminal justice system in Louisville. With restorative practices, the offender and victim volunteer to participate together to express what harm has been done, who is responsible for repairing that harm and how can that harm be repaired, according to Restorative Justice Louisville, whose offices are located on Spalding’s campus.

The International Institute of Restorative Practices and local law enforcement agencies will all be partners in the training. In addition, JCPS Behavior Support Systems Department Coordinator Naomi Brahim and resource teachers Angel Jackson and Ronzell Smith will present, along with Spalding Director of Forensic Psychology and Restorative Studies Dr. Ida Dickie and forensic psychology graduate student Mariya Leyderman. Dickie recently won the Kentucky Psychological Association’s Community Service Award.

The conference is being held at Spalding University’s College Street Building, 812 Second St.

Consultant and entrepreneur Dana Jackson has been a member of Spalding University’s Board of Trustees since 2004. Jackson, who received a master’s degree in psychology from Spalding, is the CEO of Dana Jackson Consulting, which focuses on results-based leadership development and organizational transformation. Jackson is also a partner with Better Together Strategies consulting firm, which specializes in leadership development, building public-private partnerships and working with nonprofit organizations on community change and economic development. She has also served as executive director of the Network Center for Community Change and in leadership roles for Kentucky’s Department of Community Based Services.

What’s it been like to be a longtime member of Spalding’s board, and what has it meant to you to serve in that role?

Spalding has a special place in my heart, not only because it’s where I got my master’s degree but because of the mission of Spalding. Spalding really is focused on a population that I care deeply about with folks who have often been disenfranchised. Spalding’s social justice focus is another thing that is really near and dear to my heart. I know for me, as a graduate student at Spalding, it was sort of a tough time in my life, and I really feel like if I had been at another institution, I maybe would have gotten lost. Some of the personal difficulties I was having, it was like a season of loss in my family. I lost a lot of people who were very dear to me during the time I was a student there. Had I been at a larger institution or an institution that was not so focused on student support and really getting to know students, I probably would have stepped away from my education. The faculty and staff at Spalding did not let that happen. They helped me change the narrative of my life, and I’m forever grateful for that.

How does the work you’re doing now and throughout your career align with the mission of Spalding to be a diverse community of learners and be grounded in compassion and social justice, and do you see Spalding carrying out that mission when you visit campus?

The mission of Spalding really in many ways is sort of my life’s mission. It’s of high importance to me. I’ve spent the majority of my working career really focused on equity, closing opportunity gaps and disparities, particularly around child well-being, community well-being and education. I really think that’s the work that Spalding does as well. I think the best way to do that work is with the understanding of equity, with a spirit of compassion and to do it with a lens and focus on social justice. That’s how Spalding does its work, and it holds education as the great equalizer. I think that shows up in the demographics of the student body. It’s all in the DNA of the leadership at Spalding, and it’s in the DNA of the offerings at the college.

Are there any programs or undertakings at Spalding that stand out to you that you consider a priority as a board member or hope to work on or have an impact on?

Continuing to hold on to and increase this notion of being a diverse community of learners. I’m really interested in the Muhammad Ali scholarship program (which gives $5,000 in need-based aid to first-year students and is renewable for up to four years), and I’m very much interested in the focus on restorative justice and restorative practices. … I don’t actually think you can talk about restorative justice without thinking about and being open to discussions about disproportionality and inequity, and I think that Spalding is well-positioned in the community – based on this notion of being a compassionate university and really embracing restorative practices and being a diverse community of learners – to really be a leader as our community continues to not only think about but take actions around more equitable outcomes in education.