In a bid to improve its image in the eyes of students, the Office of Student Judicial Services recently launched an initiative to reorient itself toward providing services outside its traditional judicial mandate. In unveiling its new mediation service – a program that serves students living both on and off campus – SJS hopes to attract students eager to resolve disputes outside the established student judicial structure. While this page looks favorably upon such a paradigm shift, the inherent flaws in the new policy reveal more of what students have come to resent in dealing with SJS.
Students opting to solve conflicts through mediation rather than filing a complaint should be rewarded with immunity from infractions stemming from topics raised during a mediation session, with very few exceptions. Failing to articulate specific circumstances in which such immunity would be forfeit, SJS Director Tara Woolfson said SJS would intervene only in instances representing “serious violations of the Code of Student Conduct or serious violations of law,” and would not go after students who conceded drinking alcohol. Operating in such vagaries is precisely what students have come to resent about SJS – it often uses amorphous rule definitions to proactively prosecute students or student groups.
SJS should have the ability to intervene during mediation in cases of drug trafficking, assault or when someone threatens physical harm to themselves or others. They should not have the power to charge a student when roommate disputes stem from the recreational use of illegal drugs or alcohol or a minor physical confrontation between roommates. So long as the specific circumstances in which SJS would intervene remain unclear, students will not avail themselves of the new service out of fear of being charged.
If SJS is serious about distancing itself from its negative reputation, it must shed its role as a proactive policing body and clarify many of its rules that remain too vague for student interpretation. SJS, for example, uses popular student tools such as Facebook and Webshots to charge Greek-letter or other student groups with violations. This is simply unacceptable. Student justice should consist of prosecuting students when violations come to the attention of SJS rather than when SJS proactively seeks out possible violations.
Rules governing violations are often so vague that students often have no idea what constitutes a violation and what does not. One prominent example of this is the policy governing whether or not a room of students over the age of 21 is permitted to host students under 21 if alcohol is present. The policy currently prohibits making alcohol “available” to minors but does not stipulate what this entails. This often leads to of-age students being charged with alcohol violations for providing alcohol to minors even when none of the minors present in the room themselves receive alcohol violations. Operating in such vagaries only engenders student perceptions that SJS’ primary desire is to inconvenience students.
SJS should be commended for recognizing the need to reorient itself toward becoming a body that resolves disputes outside of established judicial doctrine. In order to make this change significant, SJS must also address the areas of its operation through which it has engendered resentment and confusion among the student population.