I got a call. A new community was thinking about expelling a member and they wanted to know what they should do. Sadly, they had no existing expulsion process to turn to so they were making it up as they went along.
I was flattered to be called, so i banged out some instructions. And i thought i would share them here. If folks have suggestions on how to improve them, as my dear Ukrainian friend used to say, “I am one big ear.” [The names have been changed in this post. Fuliano is what we call a generic communard at Twin Oaks.]
Even if expulsion is not what a group is considering, if there is an incident where people in the community are seriously upset with someone, this process could help.
The need for an Advocate
I think it is critical for someone to become Fuliano’s advocate. An advocate is someone who is solely concerned with making sure the focus person (Fuliano in this case) is getting what they want. It seems in this case the advocate would be asking them what it is they want and why they broke the agreements. Having an advocate will greatly reduce the chances Fuliano will do more things which are upsetting to the members because there will be a more open line of communication (until we know the motives, it does not insure there will be no problems, but it certainly helps). Ideally the advocate would be someone Fuliano knows and trusts (or at least respects) from inside the membership. If not it should be someone who is local, someone who knows the community and its culture (at least somewhat) and still is someone Fuliano either trusts or respects (ideally both).
Try to take urgency out of the situation. Being rushed about making a decision about Fuliano dramatically increases the chances of a bad decision and/or bad treatment of them.
Ideally, the process would look something like this:
The advocate meets with Fuliano and together they comes up with a letter that
1) Describes what Fuliano thinks happened and their motivations
2) Outlines what it is they want from the group (to stay as a member or to have other members do particular things, or to leave under specific conditions, etc)
3) Fuliano’s commitment to not do things which will upset the group while the process around them is ongoing
4) Agree to be in and respect the community process around this situation
5) What desirable next steps could be
After this letter is shared and read there would be a sharing circle.
This would start with as much of the full community membership as possible including Fuliano and their advocate. The group would talk about the situation with the facilitator making sure they stuck to feelings and did not drift into blaming or attacking. Fuliano would get a chance to speak as part of the group – first, if that is Fuliano and their advocate’s preference, and then again at the end.
Then, once the sharing circle was exhausted, which might take a couple or three rounds with increasing numbers of people passing, Fuliano would be asked to leave, and then the group would do another round of sharing, with the advocate present. It is possible next steps will be designed. This could be influenced by the letter Fuliano and their advocate drafted, or it could include additional things (we would like Fuliano to not block decisions while this process is happening, we would like them to stay somewhere else for a while, we would like them to investigate therapy or counseling, etc).
In the end the community will need to figure out if it has to expel Fuliano or if they can re-integrate them. This is often the hardest decision a community can make. Ideally, we figure out a common ground, we get the focus person to change their behavior and pull together. But sometimes the trust is too deeply broken. Sometime it is impossible (especially with issues like sexual assault) to re-integrate someone in, and not expelling the focus person means that other members will leave.