The Board of Trustees voted Friday to approve updates to several sections of the student code of conduct, including revised language, definitions and guidelines outlined.
The updates will go into effect July 1, according to a University release. Officials and students said the updates to the code will clarify existing conduct guidelines and expand opportunities for students to reconcile conflict with one another instead of merely handing out punishments.
“I am hoping that we will replicate that in various forms and I’m hoping that we’ll receive more feedback and more student participation,” said Christy Anthony, the director of the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities.
The SRR office overhauled the code in October after completing its first review since 1996. The office then updated the code based off of student feedback solicited from listening sessions hosted in the months following the review, but only seven students attended five different sessions.
The updates changed the code to allow complainants to participate in all conduct violation case proceedings, prohibit student organizations from ruling on conduct violation cases without consulting with or obtaining approval from officials and permit students to engage in spontaneous gatherings on campus.
Definitions for terms like “discriminatory harassment” and “unlawful discrimination” were also revised to be consistent with revisions to GW’s Equal Employment Opportunity Policy.
The updates also add members to the committee on the judicial system – a panel of faculty and students who hear students’ appeal cases for conduct violations – which will be renamed the “appeals board.”
An alumna protested the ruling in her sexual violence case in spring 2017 after the accused student received a less severe sanction than what the student code of conduct recommended. In October, the code was updated to no longer include recommended sanctions.
A former male student sued GW in March 2018 alleging he had been wrongfully accused of sexual assault and said in a reply brief later that year that officials misread evidence during the conduct violation hearing, which should have warranted a second trial. The student code of conduct was updated to allow students to appeal sanctions on the basis of procedural errors and severity of a sanction, not just when new evidence surfaces.
Anthony said complainants previously could only be involved in conduct violation case proceedings if the case included discriminatory harassment or unlawful discrimination. The code now allows complainants to be involved in all processes of conduct violation cases, like asking other witnesses to testify and offering testimony themselves.
She said SRR officials made the change to emphasize reconciling conflict between students instead of only sanctioning students who violate the code.
“That’s a direction that we have been moving in the last iteration of the code as well, and it’s really consistent with the principles of restorative justice, which look to repair the harm to a community, including the harm incurred to the person who violated policy,” she said.
Anthony said student organizations must now consult with or obtain the approval of officials before ruling on conduct violation cases.
“The idea here is to engage in more development of those processes for organizations that want to seek that, and for organizations who don’t, to give them a clear way to say to other students, ‘This is not ours to manage,’” she said.
Dean of the Student Experience Cissy Petty said emphasizing “restorative justice” in the code will help make GW’s culture less “transactional.” She wants to establish expectations for “civil behavior” in residence halls and campus facilities, Petty said.
“In some ways when you read the code, it could be a transactional, ‘You did this, and this is what’s going to happen to you,’” she said. “At many Jesuit colleges, restorative justice is a big deal, meaning that people have a chance to repair relationships and repair community damage.”
Anthony said officials changed the definition of hazing because intent is “difficult” to demonstrate and students are unlikely to admit they intended to haze someone.
She added that officials will factor in intent when determining the severity of sanctions for hazing violations, but intent will not indicate whether an act of hazing occurred.
“I don’t think it’s helpful or appropriate for my team or our volunteers to be in the business of striving to interpret intent,” she said. “It’s more important to focus on what is behavior.”
Anthony said the update permitting spontaneous student gatherings, like protests, expands the rights of students to assemble in unreserved spaces like Kogan Plaza, as long as the gatherings do not disrupt regular University activity or violate University policy. She said the update is designed to reflect how the University generally does not force students to “disperse” from spontaneous gatherings.
“Really what we’re doing is codifying a current practice that I think is a really good one,” she said.
Accommodating present circumstances
Anthony said members serving on the committee on the judicial system still cannot adjudicate cases involving students they know personally. She said having more members will help the committee assemble faster and avoid “undue” delays in the appeals process.
She added that the committee on the judicial system will be renamed to the “appeals board” to more accurately reflect its function – hearing students’ appeal cases.
Petty, the dean of the student experience, said having more committee members will help officials avoid delays in hearing appeals cases in the event that members have to remove themselves from cases because they know a student involved.
“In particular, if a student knows a student on the board, it takes time to then recuse that person and get a new person,” Petty said.
Student Association President SJ Matthews said the updates to the code will better serve issues the University encounters in the present day, as a full-scale review had not been conducted since 1996.
“GW and the world have changed a lot in the last twenty years and it is important that the student code of conduct reflects that,” Matthews said in an email.