I was extremely disappointed to read about the case of Jordan Nott (“Locked out: Lawsuit sheds light on endangering behavior policy,” p. 1) in Tuesday’s paper and the unfortunate University policy that caused him to withdraw from school. As an undergraduate in San Diego, I was a resident adviser for two years and in that time I experienced both the loss of a friend who committed suicide and the trauma of dealing with a resident who attempted to take his own life. These experiences brought me an increased awareness about mental health issues, as well as heightened sensitivity toward those that struggle with depression.
I personally understand that anger, fear, depression and questioning the value of one’s own life are all within the normal range of reactions that come when someone close to you chooses to take his own life. In such a time of emotional turmoil, Jordan showed commendable awareness of his fragile mental condition and sought professional help, only to be punished by a University policy that does a great injustice to students.
The disclosure of personal information to University officials destroys trust and confidentiality, which are the cornerstones of effective counseling, and serves as a deterrent to students who would seek help in the future. Furthermore, alleging conduct code violations on the basis of thoughts alone and in the absence of any dangerous act flies in the face of a central tenet of American law. Using these allegations to exert coercive pressure on Jordan to withdraw is both disturbing and shameful.
A university that has a significant number of student residential life employees called community facilitators commits itself to more than providing a room and a bed to its students. Effective community building is a matter of caring and supporting, not merely getting rid of the students with problems. Those who battle depression need the support of the school community, not the forceful boot of a university fearful of liability.
If Jordan’s claims are successful, students of this University will likely suffer the loss in the form of rising tuition. However, regardless of that outcome it is the responsibility of students to demand a more tolerant and supportive policy regarding students who deal with depression and thoughts of suicide, lest we suffer a far greater loss to our community.
-Bryce Warwick, law student
Losing faith in UCC
For the past two years I have worked at a Teen Crisis Line in Seattle talking to teens who have depressed and sometimes suicidal thoughts.
Often, the people that call us have friends or family members who have hurt themselves. Our job is the same as the therapists at the University Counseling Center: to listen and provide such people with compassionate care. I cannot believe that the same GW counseling center that recently acquired a large grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration – meant to go toward suicide prevention – would be so unprepared to treat a suicidal student. I am also shocked that the therapists at the UCC do not value student’s privacy. Now, who can a depressed student turn to in a time of need?
The UCC needs to stop thinking about the risk of lawsuits and take top administrators off their speed dial. After acquiring so much money from SAMHSA, the therapists at the UCC should have the resources to act as trusted confidants, not police officers.
-Steven Blum, freshman
Student injustice services
Certain aspects of Student Judicial Services’ recent decision clearing Student Association President Shakour of sexual harassment and sexual assault charges raise serious concerns about the quality and evenhandedness of the University’s disciplinary regime.
What’s important for students to realize is that regardless of the merit of SJS’s decision, there’s no way even to confirm the decision’s existence, let alone consider the quality of the reasoning behind it, for GW produces no public record of its disciplinary rulings. Unlike in the criminal or civil justice system – where equal justice under the law is presumably the goal – GW does not concern itself with equanimity.
Without speculating about Mr. Shakour’s guilt or innocence, or the veracity of his accuser’s account, it’s safe to say that future accused students will be unable to cite the arguments he forwarded – or the legal conclusions reached by SJS – as precedent. Under GW’s avowed “case-by-case” disciplinary regime, accused students cannot make the following fundamental argument: “(a policy) was ruled to apply a certain way under previous circumstances, and my circumstances are similar or identical; therefore, (the policy) should apply the same way to me.”
GW eternally claims that “privacy concerns” require issues, arguments, findings and conclusions in individual student cases to be non-discoverable, but this assertion fails under close scrutiny. Only GW’s need to preserve its unfettered and capricious disciplinary hand prevents it from instituting a system that shields the identities of the accused and the accusers alike from public disclosure, but still requires SJS officials to place their legal findings and conclusions on public record.
The closed-door student discipline system at GW, which by its own language permits students little or no genuine legal representation, does nothing to discourage abusive application of policy based on inappropriate factors such as notoriety or (un)popularity of a party, or even the bare personal bias or prejudice of a fact-finder. The lack of discoverability lets the University dole out discipline as inconsistently as it wishes, unhindered by concerns of precedent or even basic fairness.
As long as GW eschews transparency in the disciplinary process, it prevents students from gauging and criticizing the quality of SJS decisions, and renders students unable to anticipate whether their conduct will adhere to the University’s varying (and surely contradictory) policy interpretations. This all but guarantees that the word “discipline” at GW remains synonymous with “injustice.”
In this light, it’s amazing that GW still has the audacity to use the word “judicial” when identifying its disciplinary regime.
-Jason Karasik, Law School alumnus