This week, the RJ Center is highlighting Sarah Jung-mi Brown, a graduate student at UC Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare. Sarah is an RJ Student Leader and serves as the Graduate student liaison.
Here’s her bio:
Q: Tell me about where you grew up.
Sarah: I grew up in Reno, Nevada. It’s called the biggest, little city in the world. It’s like a miniature Las Vegas. And when I first went to another state, I was surprised there were no slot machines in the grocery stores because other grocery stores in Reno have slot machines, so I thought it was a thing.
Q: How did you find out about Restorative Justice (RJ)?
Sarah: I first found out about RJ when I heard a podcast about it on NPR and thought it was an interesting idea and was intrigued by it because I thought, “Wow. This is just such a unique idea.” And then I didn’t really find out more about it until I joined this group. But I do remember getting the gist of it at the middle school I worked at and saying, “We should do this.”
Because I worked with kids that had emotional disturbances, I thought RJ would be a good fit for this kind of work. I worked with kids that got in some form of trouble every week, whether it was through detention or in-house suspension. And I just saw one student’s demeanor rapidly deteriorating and saw that the way they were dealing with his conduct was not good for his mental health.
He would immediately get ashamed and see that if he was suspended, he’s not really accessing his classes. In class, his shoulders would be more and more hunched. He just felt like a bad person because he was being labeled that way. And I just felt like at that time, our school should look more into RJ but unfortunately at the time, I didn’t look more into it.
But yeah, I think it wasn’t until I joined this group that I learned more about it in depth, in terms of its structures, its origin and its intention.
Q: What’s your role at the Center now?
Sarah: Dear readers (laughs) -- My role at the RJ Center as the Graduate student Liaison is that I do outreach to graduate students. I had a predecessor named Dax, who was very involved in the GA. And because she already set a precedent with the GA, I’m taking the initiative to work with the GA.
Q: What has been your favorite part about working here?
Sarah: Just interacting with this concept is one thing and being able to share it. Because I’m in the School of Social Welfare, I think RJ is a really, really good fit with what I’m trying to do. We talk about bringing in equity into the various systems that we work in, whether it’s schools or juvenile justice.
Social workers do a lot of work in various fields. A lot of the work we do is with system-affected, underserved, vulnerable populations, so this kind of tool (RJ) and knowing about it gives me hope.
A lot of the times when we talk about social problems, there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel because we feel the problems we face are so huge, so it can feel overwhelming. But I think RJ is a pinprick of inspiration or hope -- that maybe if this were a tool and used more in different communities, it could really be a source of healing and be a way for various environments to become more equitable.
So I’m excited about the concept of RJ itself and also the people that I’ve met that interact with this concept and get really inspired. It actually inspires people in the moment. It’s just really cool.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
Sarah: Well, now that I’m in grad school, I don’t have a lot of that. (laughs) Now that I’m anticipating summer break, I’m going to travel to Oaxaca, Mexico for six weeks. I’m going to be part of this language-learning, cultural-exchange program, so that’s going to be fun. I love traveling. I like dancing. I like exercising in general, riding my bike, and meeting new people.
Q: What are three words that you hope for this year, either personally or regarding RJ?
Sarah: I hope for genuineness. I think in the work that I do, it’s very personal, and it hits people in their emotional self because either you’ve been impacted by trauma in some way or you are impacted by observing it. So I feel like it impacts people in certain ways. And through it all, I just like to be as genuine as possible.
The other thing I’m hoping for is balance. (laughs) I’m working on it. I think part of it for me is accepting that I’m going to be imbalanced, but not going all the way on the wrong side of balance.
And maybe positivity and hopefulness. I think it’s very easy to get bogged down by all the tragedy and awful things you see in the world and you think, “I didn’t even know this kind of human tragedy is possible.” I’m not saying to have a false sense of positivity, but more so, to have more hope. That my hopefulness will inspire me to take the actions to make things better.