Be Your Own Advocate: A Lesson in Student Rights
Published: Monday, August 27, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 15:08
As a volunteer for the Student Advocacy Office, I’ve been put through rigorous training in Georgetown’s disciplinary system and student rights bylaws. So for all the wide-eyed freshmen, as well as some older folks who might never have found the time, I think it’s worthwhile to review the rights that we enjoy as students here on the Hilltop.
First and foremost, it is paramount that people understand that the Georgetown Emergency Response Medical Service is completely free and confidential. This especially goes out to the eager freshmen whose collective insecurity weighs so heavily on every pregame that a good time with friends can end in disaster.
Although students’ information will be recorded by the Department of Public Safety and given to the presiding hall director or area coordinator if officers accompany GERMS — which they almost always do — disciplinary charges are usually dropped against students who call for medical assistance.
While on the topic of DPS, students often misunderstand rules about when an officer can search their university residences. An officer cannot enter a residence without receiving consent from a resident or obtaining a warrant or administrative search privileges from anybody ranging from a hall director to the vice president for student affairs. Such allowances are given when there is reasonable suspicion of a violation of the Code of Student Conduct, a crime in the residence or knowledge of exigent circumstances that place the safety of Georgetown’s campus at risk.
For students, the term “reasonable suspicion” can be confusing, because officers may toe the line on the false pretense of probable cause. If a student believes an officer overstepped his boundaries during an incident on campus, he has the right to file a complaint against the officer in the DPS office in Village C West.
Georgetown is also currently facing a turning point in its disciplinary methods. Last spring, the Disciplinary Review Committee recommended that the burden of proof to sanction students be raised from “more likely than not” to “clear and convincing.” The Division of Student Affairs must seize this opportunity to bring more fairness and professionalism to the disciplinary process by upholding the decision. This will emphasize evidence-based decisions, rather than probability-based ones, decreasing the chances that innocent students will receive undeserved punishments.
If a student is written up for violating the Code of Student Conduct, his information will be collected and entered into a system, and a meeting will be scheduled with a hall director, area coordinator or Residential Judicial Council. The student will be sent an email with the meeting information as well as the list of charges faced, ranging from category A violations, which can include minor fines and sanction hours, to category C violations, which can lead to suspension or even dismissal from the university.
The process for students after being written up can also be confusing. Students often feel misled going into their disciplinary meetings, especially with the frequently long waiting period before being informed of the charges.
To clear things up, students have the right to ask an advocate — which can be anyone — to attend their disciplinary meeting. An appeals process also exists for students who feel that an unjust decision was reached in their disciplinary meeting on the grounds of substantial procedural error, new evidence that the respondent could not provide at the initial hearing or a substantially disproportionate sanction. Students have seven days to appeal a decision, and the SAO can assist with drafting appeals.
Finally, I commend the university on eliminating party registration requirements this past week, as the decision to do away with such a needless and cumbersome technicality will make on-campus nightlife much easier for everyone involved. But party registration reform, although a significant victory, cannot be considered the end of a long push for greater student rights and, more generally, a higher quality of student life. A more consistent and transparent judicial process will bring our disciplinary system further in line with the ethos of Georgetown University.
Ben Manzione is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. He is an advocate for the Student Advocacy Office.