Student Advocacy Office Addresses Off-Campus Rights
Published: Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, December 4, 2012 02:12
After university administrators raised the evidentiary standard for disciplinary proceedings from “more likely than not” to “clear and convincing” in October, the Student Advocacy Office will begin working to extend the new standard to off-campus incidents this spring.
Next semester, SAO plans to work with the offices of Student Affairs and Student Conduct to establish a working definition for “clear and convincing.” The standard will take effect Jan. 1, with all violations before then evaluated under the “more likely than not” standard. Once a definition is established, SAO senior advocate Constantine Petallides (SFS ’13) said he believes the university will be more receptive to extending the standard to off-campus incidents.
“We want to see how it unfolds,” Petallides said. “We’ll work out a compromise with the offices with ‘clear and convincing,’ see how this works for a semester or full year and then we can apply the logic of ‘clear and convincing’ to off campus. After a semester or two, hopefully the evidence makes the case strong.”
According to SAO advocate Jay Factor (COL ’14), the university is still unsure of exactly what “clear and convincing” means, and it may not align with what students expect.
“For us, ‘clear and convincing’ means there was actual evidence — there was something linking you to something, for example if you were charged with drinking alcohol, you were seen drinking alcohol,” Factor said. “For the university it may be closer to a 75 percent chance you were found responsible.”
SAO’s efforts to extend the evidentiary standard are the latest in a series of initiatives to ensure the fair treatment of students off campus.
Last semester, SAO gained a seat on the Weekend Review Council, a body composed of representatives from the Student Neighborhood Assistance Program, the Metropolitan Police Department, the Office of Student Affairs and the Office of Student Conduct. The committee reviews write-ups to gain a sense of what is happening on campus and how the Department of Public Safety responds, but does not control any disciplinary action.
“It’s nice to have a student voice there when the police or [any council members] say, ‘these damn kids today,’” Petallides said. “It immediately changes the dialog because one of us is there and they’re not going to say those things to our faces. It prevents them from bullying the university.”
However, Petallides said this exchange also works in both directions.
“[The neighbors] aren’t all the crazy guys who tried to take pictures and videos of everyone. They do understand that they live in a college town, that the university was here first, but it is also their home,” he said. “It’s nice from our perspective to have a face to put to the demon that is the neighbors and it’s nice for the saner ones who like to talk about the problem to have a face to put to the students.”
Petallides said that SAO’s main contribution to the campus community has been its founding mission: to prepare students for disciplinary hearings with the administration. This semester, the 22 advocates of SAO have handled approximately 20 cases and answered queries regarding the disciplinary system from approximately 40 students.
“We act as defense attorneys during disciplinary hearings for students,” Petallides said. “We help them, tell them what to expect, and offer any help we can. Our experience — we know the precedent — helps them form a defense.”
SAO advocates may attend disciplinary hearings as silent participants. However, in some cases, Petallides said, SAO advocates do not feel equipped to handle disciplinary preparation.
“Someone is putting their trust in you,” he said. “I went through the training but I’m also still a student who has read the code of conduct maybe two to three more times than the average student. In serious cases someone’s future could be riding on you. We’ve had cases where suspension or expulsion was on the table.”
Petallides expects SAO’s role to change slightly after “clear and convincing” takes effect in January.
“We’re going to have a lot less work. At least that’s how I hope it will go,” he said.
Nonetheless, Factor said he hopes to increase SAO’s visibility on campus next semester. For the first time this year, information about SAO was included in the packet that all new students receive when they arrive on campus, which Factor said helped to increase awareness about the resource.
“We’re working to become more institutionalized so more people know about us. When people get written up they think, ‘Oh, I got written up, what do I do now?’ We want them to think, ‘Oh, I got written up, and there’s this resource available,’” he said.
Hoya Staff Writer Emma Hinchliffe contributed to this report.