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Transforming Justice Through Professor Xhercis Méndez’s Justice Beat

Note: We juxtapose injustices, within the context of jails and prisons, in the United States and on the continent of Africa; specifically South Africa. We seek to highlight similarities versus differences in an attempt to bridge the gap across the Transcontinental divide. It is our intent to increase awareness and promote solidarity in our quest for systemic reform of institutions of incarceration.

Fall/Winter Edition: Issue 2

Transformative Justice: A Form of Representation

Stuart Hall (2013) defines representation as an enabler of meaningfulness. It gives voice to cast away injustice through a body of work, words, or actions.

Thankfully, the world continually awakens to women taking space in studies that unpack meaningful discourses. This awakening has overarched thoughts around justice like a kaleidoscope.

So, who is Professor Xhercis Méndez?

Professor Méndez is our guest for the second episode of Season 4. She specializes in Women and Gender Studies at California State University.

Méndez lifts her fist high as a student wellness protagonist.

She is an Associate Professor in Women and Gender Studies & Queer Studies. The professor is an allied African American Studies intellect at the California State University Fullerton.

"I always teach my students how to organize by teaching transformative justice," says the gender studies academic. Méndez encourages institutional change through transformative lessons.

What work does Prof Xhercis Méndez do?

The transdisciplinary force, Prof Méndez arranges masses through her activism and decolonial feminist research.

Méndez focuses on developing decolonial feminist practices as Associate Professor.

Her methodologies expand freedom expressions and build towards transformative justice. Méndez’s focal reality is transformative justice.

“I have been in [transformative justice] work a lot longer; before I knew what it was," says Méndez.

Where does Prof Méndez’s heart lie?

Méndez attributes her passion to implementing harm-reducing solutions in her community from an early age. She recollects memories of helping community members communicate.

Her theory involves dealing with navigating temperance. "I have been in [transformative justice] work a lot longer; before I knew what it was." She, therefore, labors strategies to deal with harm without advancing the former.

Méndez takes platform at a #MeToo event for the University Transformative Justice Project at UCLA. Sourced image.

What work has Prof Méndez done?

Prof Méndez also founded the Transformative Justice Speaker Series. She founded the Series when she was a Philosophy and African-American and African Studies vice-professor at Michigan State University.

What is Méndez doing to advance her work?

Méndez is currently a consultant for an initiative, Transformative Justice (TJ). Her activism involves challenging the presence and triggering police officer visibility on campus.

The California State University Associate Professor opened the second episode of Season 4 like a can of worms. She cleared the air by addressing policing ways enforced in academic spaces.

“When do [students] get to be students?" probes Méndez.

The tertiary educator says student policing in presumably safe learning spaces (has adverse mental health) results.

What does her Transformative Justice initiative do?

The intersectional professor similarly founded the TJ initiative. The enterprise seeks to expand healing that is not limited to gender-based violence (GBV) survivors. Its purpose extends healing to sexual assault and sexual misconduct survivors within the university. “When do [students] get to be students?" asks Méndez.

Transformative Justice is an entity that increases accountability options available to and for survivors of gender-based violence. The entity also supports sexual assault and misconduct within university spaces.

What is the #campusTJ Project?

Prof Méndez founded a campus-based transformative justice project known as the #campusTJ Project, ( #CampusTJ Project is a consultancy that advocates for an intersectional, and decolonial approach to GBV and campus sexual assault.

A smile of justice. Sourced image.

What is Prof Méndez’s highest qualification?

The Binghamton University conferred Méndez her doctorate in Philosophy, Interpretation, and Culture Program. The humanities professor holds certificates in Feminist Theory and Latin-American and Caribbean Area Studies.

What is the premise of Prof Méndez’s academic research?

Méndez’s research ties the theory and political work of Women of Color, Transnational, and Decolonial Feminists. She also researches Sexuality Studies, Afro-Latino/diasporic ritual practices, and Liberation Philosophies.

Méndez’s research explores substitute grounds for (re)making power, social relations, and resistant possibilities. Prof Méndez is undoubtedly a community think tank. She embodies and imparts transformative lessons from an array of activist work.

Prof Méndez says she thinks of her specialty as “[a] philosophy of trying to react to harm in a non-harmful way.”

What justice flaws has Prof Méndez discovered?

She relays how the American justice system ploys refugees. Since proper identification is requisitory for an immigrant’s freedom, seeking justice in crisis is a gateway for refugees to be arrested or even deported. Méndez shares how the former pursuit of justice results in a harmful reaction that advances the harm.

How does Prof Méndez relay TJ?

Systematically, Méndez believes that transformative justice is impartial, and it holds different harm-assessing perspectives and analyses. Therefore, Prof Méndez believes that a community that unites to discuss solutions—finds solutions at its core.

The Women and Queer Studies associate advocates for building a person-centered, personalized system. She further advocates for a non-static and hence transformative, and ever-evolving. Méndez contemplates that the law should develop more precautionary measures. Successively, injustice will not have to occur before action is taken.

“Let’s respond early”, says Méndez.

What experiences influenced Prof Méndez’s career choice?

Méndez reflects on her lived and perceived injustices. She recalls how the welfare system policed her mother’s [personal] relationships to police her life as a primary caregiver.

She believes that transformative justice would have lent a less harmful approach. An approach that encourages close-knitted family structures would have been a healthier approach for all parties.

What is Méndez’s relationship with the State?

Prof Méndez further reiterates how she is in a non-consensual relationship with the State. She confers this too, how the State dictates the legal relationships she should have with students.

“Universities are groomed by the law. [Therefore, we tertiary educators] are mandated, reporters.”

Méndez says the State tells educators what students’ rights are. And it polices how students express themselves.

How does Prof Méndez navigate the teaching space and enforce justice?

The social sciences lecturer governs her teaching space and maps through it with Title 9. The clause deals with discrimination based on sex and gender. Méndez says the system is designed to wait for a situation to be toxic before it is procedurally dealt with.

She points out how the logic screams lack of responsibility, and refusal to take accountability. The institutionalized system, says Méndez, defeats the structure of student wellbeing.

How can sexual crime survivors maintain safety in learning institutions?

The valid questions Prof Méndez poses ponder with how to ensure the survivor’s safety methodically. She shares a student-safety strategy and suggests that students assess their learning environment.

Consecutively, students can determine whether they should show up individually. Or whether they should appear in groups.

The result may help students route their ways so that they are safer around perpetrators.

Therefore, this arguably serves as a premise for negotiating safety pre-emptively.

How can accountability map the road to transformative justice?

Méndez advocated for changing thought around accountability. She averts that people see accountability as a punishment. Subsequently, Prof Méndez believes that punishment bars people from telling the truth to take accountability.

It is paramount that people see transformative justice as negotiation and as a truth prescription. Prescribing truths allows for boundaries to serve as our acts of love.

Therefore, Prof Méndez says it is best to meet people where they are. Méndez, therefore, suggests the initial step be to assess the needs of people.

What prescriptive measures are enforceable for transformative justice to transpire?

Through prescriptive measures, Prof Méndez says we should all have conversations with people we trust. Accordingly, categorizing our confidants for trauma responses allows each of us a shoulder to lean on. Who do you inform first when you need help with sexual assault?

Méndez illustrated how important it is to pre-determine who has access to us in our traumatized state. This, holds the professor, aids one to establish how the people around us may respond or perceive a situation.

What is South Africa’s relationship with transformative justice?

South Africa has had four constitutions since colonial South Africa. The first was adopted in 1910 when the country became a Union.

A second constitution was adopted in 1961. The apartheid government passed the third constitution in 1983. SA’s current constitution was adopted in 1994. It has wavered for the most progressive statute.

Judge Edwin Cameron: South African Constitutional Court Judge

On 21 March 2014, Constitutional Judge, Judge Edward Cameron, shared with Morning Live program viewers on the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s Channel 2, that the constitution is more than a tool.

Judge Cameron unpacked the architectural history of the Constitutional Court brick by brick. The ConCourt judge laid the foundation by referencing the very bricks of the building.

SA’s oppression history and constitutional foundation

The court of SA’s supreme law bears a history of oppression. The bricks of the prison which hosted South African women prisoners are the bricks on which the Court is founded. This is a physical metaphor of trumping oppression with justice. And replacing it with a sovereign, hybrid, and Ubuntu-principled justice.

The 19th century Fort that was built by President Paul Kruger and the Women's Prison now host the supreme court of the country. Here, Mahatma Gandhi, and the likes of Nelson Mandela, were imprisoned.

The house that the South African judiciary built

“The Court itself, these bricks that your viewers can see, come from the prison on which the Court is built. The Court is implementing the fourth constitution, the first inclusive, democratic constitution. When we sit in our courtroom—we look at the bricks from the past. And we realize, the task of the constitution is to build on a past of injustice. To create a just future for all South Africans.”

The accolades and criticisms of the SA Constitution

The SA Constitution is said to be progressive by global standards. The statute is thus globally hailed because South Africa comes from a fractured history of injustice. Constitutional Court Judge Cameron says the SA Constitution relates to the country’s ideals and promises which SA citizens make to one another.

“The Constitution represents our deal with each other. With the values that we are going to work with; the values we are going to aspire to; and the mechanism through which we are going to implement those values,” says Cameron
“We have twenty years of tough, harsh, constitutional history in which the Constitution has been working quite well,” says Judge Cameron.

The country’s harsh, diverse history highlights its constitution because the statutory document is no longer an infant. The importance of the legal document lies in that, it has worked for over two decades, shares the judge.

Since the South African Constitution has been criticized, some people have said it is too lenient a statute, and it is, hence, open to manipulation.

Judge Cameron expressed that he did not think “that is correct”. “I think our Constitution fails people because we are not implementing it enough. I do not exclude judicial offices,” the judge added.

“But I also include other people involved with the administration of justice: prosecutors; detectives,” held Judge Cameron. “We are not serving our people well enough. But the actual Constitution’s mechanism and values are first rates, and we should not tinker with them”.

SA Constitution, Section 10: The right to human dignity

The judge holds that the right to dignity is rightfully SA’s central right. The aforementioned considers that the apartheid and other injustices including inequality trampled on people’s human dignity.

The importance of power regulation was defined as long ago as 1887 when Lord Acton wrote a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton. Lord Acton wrote that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

The limiting of governmental power is therefore to protect individuals. Transformative constitutionalism, therefore, aids by limiting power to protect individuals in a society. It prescribes that governmental power be used justly.

What legal scholars have to say

Dworkin, legal philosopher, jurisprudent said:

“by constitutionalism, I mean a system that establishes individual legal rights. That the dominant legislature does not have the power to override or compromise."

The jurisprudent, therefore, drew a link between constitutionalism and the protection of human rights.

The essence of the doctrine is confinement which should be tailored towards a specific institution. Constitutionalism thus requires that exercised competence and procedures be defined and restricted.

"What may government do? What may the legislature do? What may the judiciary do?"

Therefore, it is prescriptive justice that includes a commitment to values of human worth and dignity. It is also a form of justice that standardizes legal measurement and comparison.

Constitutionalism Contextually

Constitutionalism as a prescriptive law focuses the lens on measuring the law, the commitment, and the exercise of power by the Trais Politica (state organs to the citizens).

The constitutional justice system is thereby not only about following the rules and the law. It is about commitment concerning the exercise of power. And the recognition and value placed on the inherent human dignity of every individual.

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