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Judicial Council leaders present Peer Advocacy Program

Liz O'Donnell | Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Judicial Council president George Chamberlain and vice president Christina Harmon gave a presentation on the Peer Advocacy Program to members of the Council of Representatives (COR) in Monday’s meeting.

The pair presented on the progress that the program has made this year as well as the goals they have for the program next year.

“The Peer Advocacy Program provides discipline advice to students who have been disciplined,” Harmon said.

Chamberlain said his goal for the program this year was to expand it to offer real legal advice available to students. However, this goal was not met due to the unavailability of resources.

Initially, Chamberlain said he had looked to the free legal aid clinic at the law school for help, but found the infrastructure there to be inadequate to help students. He also looked to lawyers in the South Bend Community to swap legal advice in exchange for advertisement on campus, but the Office of General Counsel prevented this, citing the liabilities it could raise.

There are currently seven peer advocates trained to know the procedures of the Office of Residence Life and Housing (ORLH) and help students dealing with them. They have all undergone strategic training processes with Kathleen Brannock, the assistant director of Residence Life and Housing.

The advocate’s focus is strictly to prepare students for the disciplinary process. They are only allowed to sit in on hearings.

“We’re not going out defending people. We’re only there for support. The main goal of the program is to be a support system in a healthy, confidential and safe manner,” Harmon said. “Confidentiality is a really important aspect of our program.”

The peer advocates deal with discipline on a number of levels on a case-by-case basis.

Harmon said the program is strictly voluntary and is open to all students who have been disciplined.

In a presentation to the Council, Harmon explained the process students go through to get help from the program. When the ORLH issues a disciplinary letter to a student, a card is issued to the student with contact information for the Judicial Council. The student is then able to contact the members if they wish, Harmon said.

She said the program usually helps out with 20 to 30 cases each year and is hoping to increase those numbers.

“We are looking to expand by an ad campaign. We will make sure it’s effective, implementing it during heavy times of ResLife violations,” Harmon said.

Student body vice president Grant Schmidt asked the pair about the incentive a student has for coming to the Judicial Council for help.

Harmon said students might be more likely to use their peers as a resource rather than someone in ORLH.

“It’s a peer, somebody you’re more comfortable talking to. It is a relaxing process that helps when you’re tense and freaking out,” Harmon said.

Student body president Bob Reish then turned the discussion to what COR can do to improve upon the awareness of the Peer Advocacy Program.

Among suggestions was the idea to address the program during freshman orientation.

“We should think about getting the word out at Frosh-O activities when explaining … ResLife,” Junior Class President Kim Kyrouac said.

The council would like to make dorm resident assistants more familiar with the program as another way to increase publicity.

Reish suggested it might be smart to train one person in every dorm.

“It would be two-fold,” Reish said. “If a person is not comfortable with someone in their dorm they could speak with a trained advocate from another dorm or vice versa.”

Reish said the peer advocacy process is something that will be moved on to next year’s administration to be looked at more closely.

In other COR news:­­­

uEight approvals for new student government positions were made at the meeting. They include Grace Concelman, assistant Student Union treasurer; Sarah Hurtubise, assistant Student Union treasurer; Mallory Davidson, Student Union co-director of programming; Matt McKenna, Student Union co-director of programming; Mary Jo Espinoza, Student Union Board art director; Nicole Sugiyama, Student Union Board director of publicity; Malcolm Phelan, Student Union director of operations; and Kim Kyrouac, Student Union Board chief controller. All were approved unanimously.