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Faculty Spotlight - Yolanda Anyon

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Conflict Resolution Institute

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Yoli AnyonDr. Yolanda (Yoli) Anyon is an Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW) at the University of Denver. A graduate of University of California, Berkeley, Dr. Anyon has focused much of her career on exploring racial and ethnic disparities in education. It was during a 5-year period working with schools in Oakland, California that Dr. Anyon gained further insight into how education systems perpetuate inequality. One element of this perpetuation that stood out was how conflicts in schools were often escalated by teachers and administrators, rather than diffused.

In her research, Dr. Anyon focused on racial and ethnic disparities in students' referral to, and use of, school-based wellness centers. After looking closely at which student groups were receiving these health and social services in schools and drawing on literature about inequality in school discipline, she became interested in the field of restorative justice. Restorative justice in schools refers to a set of practices that involve students taking responsibility for actions that may have caused harm to others and then working to resolve the conflict and repair relationships. Cities like Oakland, Denver, and Washington D.C. have all made restorative justice a mandated element of their school disciplinary approaches.

These days Dr. Anyon is focused on how conflict resolution and schools intersect. She partners with Denver Public Schools as they continue to expand the use of restorative practices throughout the district. Dr. Anyon explained that the biggest challenge she faces is changing people's mindsets and addressing beliefs about the pitfalls of traditional discipline and the potential for restorative practices.

The Conflict Resolution Institute invited Dr. Anyon to give a presentation on April 18th about the "School to Prison Pipeline" and how restorative justice might provide a means for interrupting it. The "Pipeline" refers to the disproportionate number of children from marginalized and disadvantaged backgrounds who are filtered into incarceration due to increasingly harsh school discipline policies. Research has indicated that students of color, students with disabilities, low-income students, and LGBTQ+ students are at the greatest risk of being swept into this cycle.

Dr. Anyon illustrated in her presentation that, in particular, students of color are 3.8 times more likely to be suspended in-school, 3.2 times more likely to be suspended out-of-school, 2.8 times more likely to be expelled, and 2.9 times more likely to be referred to law enforcement. Dr. Anyon explained that the real problem is inequity, as these children are likely to be disciplined more harshly than their more advantaged peers despite engaging in the same behavior. School systems around the country are recognizing these inequities and working to develop strategies to address them.

She encourages students interested in conflict resolution to think of schools as a potential place to focus their work. "Facilitating conflict resolution with young people in schools can have a really profound impact on their life outcomes," says Dr. Anyon. She believes that more conversation needs to happen around the work being done with young people in educational settings, and invited students interested in conflict resolution to get involved with research projects at GSSW which focus on these issues.

~Colin Johnson, MA 18