University to split, reform Student Judicial Services

The University will split Student Judicial Services into two offices before this fall, diverting cases dealing with minor violations to one body and more serious offenses to another, a top administrator said Tuesday.

The division is the result of a yearlong reform effort to make the student judicial process more transparent and educational, and less formidable for students, Assistant Dean of Students and head of SJS Tara Pereira said.

Egregious violations – including sexual assault or repeat offenses – will be handeled by a newly created office of rights and responsibilities similar to SJS, while an office of community standards will resolve cases involving what Pereira called “college-like behavior” like underage drinking or minor drug violations.

“SJS won’t be what it has been for all of these years,” Pereira said. “It will truly be a different entity, so that in the end, SJS will only deal with the highest level cases.”

SJS will focus solely on suspension and expulsion-level cases after the split.

Pereira, under the watch of the new Dean of Students Peter Konwerski, began an aggressive campaign to reform SJS last summer after facing years of heavy criticsm from students over the body’s lack of transparency.

SJS will create a flowchart with levels of typical alcohol-related violations and the corresponding sanctions to increase transparency and allow students to see potential consequences of underage drinking.

Pereira also launched a “listening” campaign to solicit student and faculty feedback to help shape the new bodies. Officials will hold several town hall forums and comments can also be submitted via e-mail or through a form on the SJS website.

Throughout her career at GW – which has spanned over 10 years – Pereira said she has not only listened to student input, but absorbed it to identify the core of students’ gripes with SJS. The new campaign will offer more insight into potential flaws with the judicial system.

Though the office is splitting, Pereira said the bodies will try to find a balance to enforce rules addressing campus safety, but also watch the system carefully to ensure SJS does not become too soft.

“I think there are important lessons to learn about behavior,” Pereira said.

Both offices will be renamed, and Pereira said a potential new name for SJS is the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities. She said she hopes to draft a student bill of rights as well as a list of responsibilities.

“I don’t want it to sound combative,” Pereira said. “I see a very different environment for SJS.”

The second office that handles minor cases might be called the Office of Civility and Community Standards and will likely house the University’s alcohol amnesty program and host a peer-education program as well, within which students can hash out concerns with other students.

Pereira said resources will shift to accommodate the changes, as the office is not receiving budget increases or new staff.

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