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Op-Ed: How disciplinary fines create harm and what you can do about it

Disciplinary fines are a problem. They are the primary system that Campo uses to address and prevent harm at Bennington. They are not only fundamentally ineffective, but also they cause additional harm to many students. Here’s why:  

Fines disproportionately affect low income and marginalized students. They create potentially dangerous stressors and challenges for low-income students and other students with financial vulnerabilities, when other, more economically privileged  students might not feel the effects of a disciplinary fine at all. For students who are financially vulnerable, fines actively hurt education by adding stress and creating roadblocks. A student who is unable to pay off a fine for a minor offense could suffer registration locks, emotional and financial stress, and be further discouraged from accessing education.  

For some financially privileged students, fines aren’t a real deterrent to acting irresponsibly but can be seen as a price to pay in order to perform an action that might harm their communities. Students with financial privilege also thereby can pay for forgiveness from Campo and school administrators instead of participating in systems that hold them accountable.

Fines also don’t actually address harm. Fines do very little to make students understand how their actions could potentially harm their community and are more likely to simply create feelings of isolation, resentment, and misunderstanding. Unlike restorative justice practices, which aim to create systems to educate and support people who are acting in potentially destructive ways and help them become better integrated into their communities, punitive justice systems alienate those who have done harm and can dishearten people who might need help tuning into the needs of the people around them. 

In recent history, progressive change on Bennington College campus is slow, especially when it comes to judicial reform; however, student voices guide both change and action. Because of that, the Student Union is gathering testimonials. We’re looking to gather stories from anyone who has had a negative experience being fined on campus (or if you have had a negative experience with punitive justice on campus in general). We’re looking to gather data and also to use these stories for future campaigns. We won’t share anything without your consent–confidentiality and keeping vulnerable students anonymous is our priority. Even if you wouldn’t want us to use your story outwardly, we hope you’ll share it with us so we have a more accurate representation of how many students are impacted by this problem and what that impact looks like. 

You can email us at benncollegestudentunion@gmail.com with your testimonial or with any questions you might have. You can also DM us on Instagram @studentunionbc.

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