Reforming a prominent campus institution like Student Judicial Services is a major undertaking that requires input from GW community members at all levels. That Assistant Dean of Students and head of SJS Tara Pereira is casting a wide net when seeking consultation for SJS reform is a promising step, and we believe that projected SJS changes reflect that.
SJS will split into two offices that will oversee differing offenses – one will handle minor cases while the other will focus on the most egregious cases.
One office will deal with minor violations, like underage drinking or minor drug violations. The other office will deal with more major violations, such as sexual assault cases. This division into specialized offices has the potential to better serve students who have committed offenses, and it will likely allow for SJS to accurately apply punishments that suit the crimes committed. With more specialization comes a greater awareness of the nuances of an issue, and so this is a commendable step.
We have confidence that Pereira will work to ensure the separate offices respond specifically and justly to the different natures of the crimes they address, and we are glad that she is listening to students throughout this process.
Pereira has been holding town halls since the start of the month, and they will continue until April 14. These allow students to air their comments or concerns, and they are specialized based on school or organization – there are or have been graduate school, off-campus student and Greek-life forums in addition to the general undergraduate town halls.
Students should seize this opportunity to get involved in the reforms and help the University decide how best to go forward with its judicial policy.
A major addition to SJS that Pereira highlighted is a crime consequence flowchart. Students can consult the chart to find out the punishments correlated to alcohol-related crimes. This commitment to transparency is an important one, and we are glad that SJS is proceeding with the flowchart. It will force both the University and the student body to be held to clearer accountability standards, as SJS will apply uniform punishments to crimes, and students could presumably know what their punishments will be before being brought to the court.
While the flowchart is an important reform to SJS, it should inform students about what to expect in the case of a crime and not read like an absolute and indisputable algorithm. Occasionally, cases that involve extenuating circumstances arise, and we hope that while the flowchart allows SJS to point directly to the punishment for an offense, SJS will consider the gray areas of an issue as well.
The flowchart should also explain the consequences for crimes committed by organizations. Organizations, like students, should also be forewarned of the punishments that correspond to offenses made.
The flowchart is an important reform, but it is not a silver bullet.
SJS policy still needs reform. Alcohol amnesty – or the process that unfolds after a student is EMeRGed – still does not feel like amnesty and we hope that SJS continues to consider ways to reform the process. We recognize amnesty reform is in transition, and perhaps the flowchart will aid in the process, but the policy itself is flawed. Use this opportunity to continue to inspect and improve the alcohol amnesty policy.
SJS’ willingness to seek student and administration input is a valuable move. Pereira has emphasized all year that she will consult a number of officials and sources in order to best go about SJS reforms, and we are happy to see this approach has produced major improvements to the system. While these reforms are a vital first step, SJS is a long way from being ideal, and we hope it continues to seek out ways to improve itself and become more transparent.