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du Lac policies facing possible revisions

Madeline Buckley and Sarah Mervosh | Thursday, February 25, 2010

Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a two-part series examining disciplinary policies and possible revisions to du Lac, the student handbook.

When Alumni resident Zach Reuvers was sent to the Office of Residence Life and Housing (ORLH) for a disciplinary conference as a sophomore, he didn’t know what to expect.

Reuvers, now a junior, was caught breaking parietals at 2:30 a.m. on a weekday. The next morning, he consulted du Lac, the student handbook, to learn about his punishment from ORLH, commonly called a “ResLife.”

“This was my first time [facing a disciplinary conference], and I really didn’t know what I was up against,” Reuvers said. “I was thinking, ‘am I going to get removed from my dorm, kicked off campus, put on University probation?'”

Reuvers said the vague wording in du Lac about the punishments for parietals violations — the handbook cites expulsion as a possible punishment — was problematic for him going through the process for the first time.

Associate Vice President for Residence Life Bill Kirk said the University began a “major revision” of du Lac in the fall of 2007, and the administration is seeking input from student government and the student body.

Student body president Grant Schmidt said student government is discussing possible changes to du Lac in several areas, including alcohol policy, disciplinary sanctions and sexual assault.

“We are talking about things students care about,” Schmidt said. “We’re not just talking about, ‘Hey, we don’t want to see students punished as much.’ We just want to make sure the punishments are accurate and deserved.”

Kirk said the wording for parietals violations is one of the segments of the handbook currently under examination.

For parietals, the handbook currently states: “Overnight parietal violations are considered serious violations, and students who commit such violations shall be subject to disciplinary suspension or permanent dismissal.”

The University does not allow students to be in the dorm room of a member of the opposite sex between 12 a.m. to 9 a.m. on weekdays and 2 a.m. to 9 a.m. on weekends.

“You just don’t know what is going to happen because du Lac is pretty vague, and it pretty much lets [ORLH] have full discretion,” Reuvers said on facing the consequences for his parietals violation.

Calling himself a “ResLife vet,” Reuvers said he has faced disciplinary sanctions from ORLH three times. The first two were disciplinary conferences and the third was an administrative hearing.

Reuvers said sitting through the administrative hearing was an “intense” experience. He met with the complete ORLH staff and was questioned repeatedly about the events that led him to the hearing.

“When you go into there, nobody’s your friend. You’re assumed to be guilty,” he said. “So it was scary, but at the same time it’s reality, and you have to take those things seriously.”
There are currently two types of methods listed in du Lac used by the ORLH to discipline students: disciplinary conferences and administrative hearings. Students receive a letter informing them which method will be used.

In a disciplinary conference, a student meets with one or multiple staff members from ORLH to “investigate, discuss and resolve the alleged violation,” du Lac states.
The student can receive punishments ranging from a warning to disciplinary probation.
Disciplinary suspension and permanent dismissal cannot be issued at a conference, and are reserved for administrative hearings.

An administrative hearing, the more serious of the sanctions, requires the student to meet with two or three ORLH staff members. The full range of punishments is available to be issued, du Lac states.

After the student attends a disciplinary conference or an administrative hearing, he or she is required to write a personal statement before ORLH makes its decision, Judicial Council peer advocate John Saulitis said.

The Judicial Council peer advocacy program offers advice to students facing disciplinary sanctions and can sit in on the meetings but cannot speak on the students’ behalf.

Saulitis said a student has certain rights during the disciplinary process that many do not know about. For example, students can schedule a meeting with someone from ORLH to look at their disciplinary file.

Students are also allowed to have a peer advocate or friend come in with them to the meeting, although the peer is not allowed to have a speaking role, Saulitis said.

“You can have someone come with you and sit in the meeting with you,” he said.

Saulitis said the number one advice he gives to students who are going through the disciplinary with ORLH is to tell the truth.

“I think anybody can tell when someone is being fake,” he said. “Be honest. Accept responsibly for what you did. Show that you’ve made a concerted effort to think about what you’ve done.”

Saulitis said he also recommends students try to relax during their meeting.

“It’s not the end of the world,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of the cases at Notre Dame, you don’t get expelled. You’ve got to be able to relax because the people who do get expelled are really nervous and don’t know what to do and don’t handle it well.

“If you get worked up [during your meeting with ORLH,] be able to step a back and breathe and get back in the rhythm of things again,” Saulitis said.

Kirk said the Office of Residence Life hopes to get feedback on du Lac revisions from student government. Schmidt said student government will recommend revisions to du Lac, specifically regarding alcohol and disciplinary policies.

“Our job is just to help them better understand the culture and help them understand how students act,” Schmidt said.

The second and final installment of this series will examine possible changes to the policies in du Lac. It will run in tomorrow’s Observer.