Student Conduct Council addresses campus violations

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November 2, 2010

12:13 AM

By KATIE DEMERIA and VANESSA REMMERS

During the last academic year, the Student Conduct Council issued 381 separate alcohol-related charges. Additionally, there were 11 cases of unwanted contact, five cases of harassment and two cases of sexual misconduct.

Although the College is known for the implementation of the first honor code in 1779, the student conduct process, which covers a range of violations beyond the honor code’s prohibitions on lying, cheating and stealing, is more prevalent in students’ lives.

It may come as no surprise to some at the College that the most frequent violations are alcohol-related conduct violations, especially for underclassmen. This may explain the administration’s interest in lowering the standard of proof for alcohol related incidents from “clear and convincing evidence” to “preponderance of the evidence.”

As with most violations, Assistant Dean of Students Dave Gilbert receives an alcohol violation through an incident report, which can be filed by students, police, faculty or administration.

While honor violations typically adhere to a standard process, conduct violations branch out to give students more options, usually depending on the severity of the individual case.

“We seek to be fair, efficient, educational and protective,” Gilbert, who also serves as director of student conduct, said. “William and Mary is special for its procedures that allow a student to take ownership of the process.”

Conduct violations allow students to choose how to resolve their cases, and each code boasts student-run councils that allow students to be judged by peers.

“We have mechanisms such as panel hearings … that are student dominated, and in some cases, completely student administered,” Gilbert said.

Most students choose to handle their violation informally with a Chair Administrator or their Residence Life Area Director. Alcohol education and counseling are common consequences for alcohol abuse.

“I would not be able to be a full-time undergraduate student if the Student Conduct Council had to handle every alcohol violation,” co-chair of the Student Conduct Council Anna Storm ’11 said.

For first-time alcohol violations or any other less serious offenses, students have the opportunity to present further evidence and witnesses to a student panel. A student panel consists of a co-chair and other undergraduate council members. According to Storm, most student panel hearings result in a warning if the student is found responsible.

“Instead of trying to use words like ‘conviction’ and ‘guilty,’ we try to find prevention methods and figure out why the student made the choice that they did,” Storm said. “What struck me most at my first panel was that it was more of a meeting to find truth.”

For more serious offenses, students who do not choose the informal route may opt to go in front of a hearing board. One co-chair, one faculty member and one staff member, typically the Area Director, as well as student conduct council members make up the hearing board.

The final route a student can choose is an administrative hearing, whose only distinction from an informal resolution is the formal presentation of evidence and/or witnesses to the Case Administrator.

Throughout the process, the rights of the student are emphasized. Students have the right to appeal any decision resulting from the route they chose, to seek counsel and know what they are being charged with and the evidence against them.

Exceptions among the student conduct violations are charges involving sexual misconduct. In these cases, the offender’s punishment largely depends on the victim.

“We see sexual violence as an act that deprives a student of control over his or her body or sexuality,” Gilbert said. “We don’t bring the students in and tell them they have to do anything- we provide options. You can do nothing, you can merely report it to the Dean of Students, you can adjudicate it in the conduct process or you can report it to the police.”

The College distinguishes between unwanted contact, harassment, and sexual misconduct as offenses that cause physical harm, pervasive or vexing advances and sexual contact without consent, respectively. Opinions about the efficiency of the judicial system at the College were similar for administration and students alike.

“Even though I’m biased, I do feel like William and Mary is an efficient system that does serve competing purposes,” Gilbert said.

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