I want Bucknell students to develop empathy for people who have had very different life experiences than themselves.

From a young age, Professor Kim Daubman, psychology, had the ability to see the good in bad people. Personal experiences of being wronged helped her discover that forgiveness could have a profound impact not only on herself, but also on those who caused the pain. Later, as a college student studying social psychology, she worked with a prison project and became interested in restorative justice, which focuses on repairing the harm caused by criminal activity rather than punishing the offender.

"Even if people deserve to be in prison for the rest of their life, they still need to make a life in that prison," Daubman says. "A lot of published research in psychology deals with the benefits of forgiving others, letting go of anger or resentment that helps to heal the victim. What we haven't researched much is the impact on the offenders and how forgiveness allows them to see themselves as good moral people again."

Her Positive Psychology class, held at the State Correctional Institution at Muncy, Pa., helps inform her research. Twelve Bucknell students and 12 incarcerated students at the medium/maximum security facility for adult female offenders learn about the concepts of happiness, forgiveness and resiliency.            

"The incarcerated students will admit that they have committed a crime and have significant regrets, but they have a difficult time believing in themselves. When people do something wrong and they are not forgiven, there is a greater likelihood they will blame the victim. If forgiven, they are more likely to engage in reconciliation behaviors, accept responsibility for their actions and learn they are still part of the moral community," Daubman says.            

The course emphasizes the tenets of social justice. "I want the Bucknell students to develop empathy for people who have had very different life experiences than themselves. They learn how people's actions are influenced to a great extent by social structures and their environment. The more the students understand the impact of a person's environment on their behavior, the more empathy they develop," she says. "Empathy for different perspectives or identities will also contribute to a greater awareness of their own behaviors toward others. All of this speaks to the movement toward more restorative justice efforts."

Posted Aug. 26, 2015