By Taylor Provost
“They just said this is your punishment and you have to serve it, and failure to do so will result in more punishment,” a recently suspended student said of their punishment for an alcohol violation.
The student received a one-day suspension from campus and paid for an online assessment test regarding the dangers of alcohol. The peer evaluation- Judicial Council-that decided this punishment was held on a Tuesday. The student was told that the suspension had to be served the immediate Wednesday or Thursday.
“It had to be the week of peer evaluation, and it had to be a one day, 24-hour period; I couldn’t do it Friday because it had to be actual school hours,” said the suspended student who asked to remain anonymous.
“I think mainly it was the story I had to tell, and just the fact that I was honest with the peers that were evaluating me,” said the student “That’s what the ultimate determining factor was in getting a one-day suspension.”
With a suspension only lasting one day and no car, this student felt option-less when it came to leaving campus.
The student explained that questions involving where they were to stay for the next 24 hours “wasn’t any of [the peer council’s] concern; they never asked questions and I never asked questions.”
As far as sleeping arrangements and food were concerned, “I had money saved over for food, but that was just my luck,” they said.
But for sleeping, “I had no idea … What I had planned was that I was going to sit in Wendy’s because nobody could tell me to leave there, and then I was just going to stay in Kroger all night because it was open 24 hours and that was the only place close enough to campus that I found,” the student explained.
However, a friend of the student’s “happened to be in the area” and offered their car for sleep, to which the student accepted and slept in overnight.
Another student recently suspended for a first-time alcohol violation explained that while they also had to purchase and complete the same online assessment, their punishment included a suspension lasting three days and a bit more leniency in when it was to be served.
“My suspension took place right around the time of winter break. At first I was not going to find out my punishment until I returned from winter break, but my RD realized that was not very fair to me to make me drive home for break, drive back, find out my suspension, and then drive back home,” said the student who also wished to remain anonymous. “So I was suspended for the three days after break and I just stayed at home for those days.”
Variations in punishments for similar offenses are a result of flexible language used in the Student Life Handbook.
“Students may be placed on conduct probation, suspended, moved from apartment housing to inner campus housing or dismissed/withdrawn from the institution for violation of any University policy, or due to the inability to adjust to campus life expectations,” according to page 43. “The University also retains the discretion to fashion other sanctions or corrective actions that it deems appropriate in a particular case.”
Woody Webb, VP for Student Development, explained that if the written policy used concrete language saying that a certain offense “will result,” as opposed to “may result,” in a particular punishment, that “leaves no room” for the discretion of the peers evaluating a student during the judicial process.
“I am not personally involved in disciplinary action that results in suspension, but I am aware. The Dean of Residential Life and the RDs deal with it; we have a peer judicial process. The peer judicial councils have a select number of students that have been interviewed and chosen to serve in these roles,” Webb said.
He explained that the student in question for discipline will have a hearing and meet with this group, but doing so is optional and a student has a right to waive the hearing and accept whatever punishment the RD sees fit “based on policy and precedence.”
Commuter student cases go straight to the Dean of Residential Life.
While Webb wants “to maintain consistency,” he notes that each situation is unique and the consequent punishment is “dependent on circumstance.” Webb explained that when a case is being evaluated and punishment is being decided, the factors that are considered are “policy, the situation, and how similar situations have been handled in the past.”
“We strive very hard to maintain integrity,” he added.
In the case of a suspension, Webb said that normally a student will go home to spend the designated time off campus, or if they live far away they will stay with a friend or family member that is closer to campus. “It’s rare, but we’ve actually allowed students to serve what we call an ‘in-house’ suspension,” Webb said. “They don’t have family or friends close by and they live a plane ride away, we don’t expect them to go home to serve a one-day suspension.”
Webb explained that for an “in-house” suspension, the student will just stay in their room and is not allowed to leave for the day, which is monitored by their RA.
Webb said an “in-house” suspension is meant for students that have nowhere to go, and he commented on students who have previously spent suspensions in cars or without a place to stay saying that “we would never want that to happen.”
Webb speculated that miscommunication is the problem in cases where students have spent nights in cars.
“I think what happens in those cases, is they might report ‘yes, I have someone I can stay with,’ at the end of the evaluation when we ask them to let us know where they plan on staying, and sometimes they don’t know that yet, so they might have to work on it,” he said.
“But we would never want a student to serve a suspension in their car,” Webb said. “The ideal is that they’re going to be in someone’s home, even if that’s not their own home.”