Student Feature

Aaron Yared – Finding empathy through restorative justice

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Aaron YaredWhen Aaron Yared signed up for BIS 494 Youth Court Task Force class, he thought he would be participating in mock trials.  He didn’t realize that he’d be involved in actual court proceedings. Nor did he realize that he would end up choosing to take this class every quarter till he graduates this spring.

 “I showed up the first day of class and it was kind of an orientation. It wasn’t just other UW Bothell students there for the class, but there were also high school students who, it turns out, were part of the Bothell Youth Court. Professor Walsh explained what restorative justice is and how the Bothell Youth Court works, and I was in, immediately.”

Now a senior in Law, Economics & Public Policy, Yared explains that what really grabbed him that first day was the idea of restorative justice as opposed to retributive justice. “Unless you’re actually studying law, nobody really hears about restorative justice: that there is another option,” notes Yared, “Restorative justice is part of the justice system, but we don’t use it enough. There is a bit of skepticism about how idealistic it is. But there are definitely areas in our justice system where it can be applied.”

“The fundamental problem with the retributive justice approach is that if you do something wrong to me, and I have you punished for it, I’m still hurt. Neither of us wins in this outcome. We both walk away hurt. Nobody heals. Nobody understands what happened. The community is not better, and the individuals are not better. Restorative justice creates another way, another option. We work to find out what the needs of all the parties are, how we can solve those needs, and how we can restore trust in the community,” explains Yared. Sometimes restorative justice entails assigning community service, and sometimes it means doing and presenting research on why something is a legal infraction. In the Bothell Youth Court, the process of the hearing itself creates community understanding and healing.

While UW students learn about restorative justice through class readings and discussion, what makes it a high impact experience is attending the Bothell Youth Court hearings and designing trainings that help the high school students refine their practice of restorative justice. “Now that I’ve been participating in the youth court task force for over a year, I have a sense of how it all works. It’s really cool to work directly with the high school students, to be able to say, ‘Here’s how we understand restorative justice,’ and to work with them to find a common ground based on their understandings and practice. At the end of the day, a lot of the high school students participate in the court for longer than the college students who take the course. It becomes a back and forth, where you have some high school students who have been in BYC since their freshman year and really understand how restorative justice works, so they’re also teaching the college students. We learn as much from them as they do from us.”

Based on his experience in Bothell Youth Court, Yared defines restorative justice as “focusing on the needs of the victim, the respondent, and the community, and trying to address all three in order to move towards a healthier relationship between all parties involved. It generates empathy. You may have a pre-conceived notion of a person, but there’s a story behind every person. There might be a reason behind their actions. That doesn’t mean that I might not condemn their actions, but it does give me reason to try and figure out why they did what they did first.”

Yared sees law school in his future, and is currently applying to IAS’s Master of Arts in Policy Studies program.  As for his ultimate goal, Yared says he’d like to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Bothell Youth Court Hearing
Bothell Youth Court Hearing