A new voice is fighting for GW students’ rights this year in the form of a student group called Students for Student Judicial Reform.
SSJR formed at the end of last semester when a group of friends, mostly Sigma Nu fraternity members, began to take a closer look at the
Guide to Students’ Rights and Code of Conduct in the GW planner handbook. SSJR President Chris Ligatti said they discovered several reforms they wanted to see in the rules.
“Most students don’t know their rights and don’t take advantage of (the resources) that are provided to them,” said Ligatti, a junior. “We looked
and saw things that should change.”
The group compared GW’s rules to that of 15 other Universities, but did not seek out expert legal opinion, Ligatti said.
SSJR requested 11 reforms to the Guide to Students’ Rights and Code of Conduct.
One reform calls for an elimination of the line “hearing bodies shall enjoy considerable discretion to interpret, vary or waive procedural requirements” in the rules. The group also asks for public hearings and a list of specific crimes that may be prosecuted by the University for off-campus behavior, such as use of a fake ID and underage drinking.
“If there was one reform I would like to see passed it would be the implementation of a clemency policy,” Ligatti said.
He explained the policy would put student safety over discipline by exempting a student involved in drinking who helps an intoxicated friend get medical attention from judicial recourse.
The group is also looking for the replacement of the university standard of “a preponderance of the evidence” to “clear and convincing evidence,” which is held to higher standard when judging a student’s guilt.
SSJR also found GW’s standard of five days to file an appeal the second shortest out of the 15 schools researched. In addition, they said GW’s appeals process is more restrictive than many of the other schools, according to the Review and Recommendations.
Most other schools allow appeals on procedural grounds and based on punishment, Ligatti said, but GW only allows appeals with new evidence.
Ligatti said SSJR is not an “enemy” of Student Judicial Services.
University officials such as David Pine, director of SJS, are in the process of reviewing SSJR’s Review and Recommendations, Ligatti said.
SSJR began to distribute information to freshmen on move-in day about students’ rights regarding room and person searches.
“People come in and have no knowledge of their rights,” Ligatti said.
“We listed all the sources from where we got the information such as personal experience or University material.”
Pine asked the group to stop handing out flyers until the information had
been approved by Student Judicial Services, Ligatti said.
“I just want to make sure that the information (SSJR) sends out to students is accurate with our information because I know ours is accurate,” Pine said. “I think it is great that students will be aware of policies through other means besides SJS, because they are not always willing to come and speak to us even though we are nice people.”
Pine declined to comment further on the Review and Recommendations.
The group began to research colleges and universities comparable to GW over the summer to learn about their judicial systems, Ligatti said.
SSJR chose schools from a list of 35 schools “GW feels it is competitive with academically,” according to SSJR’s Review and Recommendations.
The Review and Recommendations states that no school was excluded once SSJR learned about their judicial system to make the survey random.
The schools selected were the universities of Miami, Pennsylvania, Chicago and Southern California; American, Brown, Tulane, Duke, Emory, Georgetown, Princeton, Carnegie Mellon, Wesleyan and New York universities and Oberlin College.
SSJR registered as a student organization this year.
“We just feel that the Student Code of Conduct focuses on punishment with no emphasis on students’ rights,” Ligatti said.
SSJR plans to expand in the near future, but Ligatti said he would like to keep the group relatively small.
“Sigma Nu is based on activism,” Ligatti said. “It took a very early stand on hazing. The members are usually very active in fighting for rights of others.”