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Peer council assists students

Nicole Michels | Friday, April 13, 2012

When a Notre Dame student is referred to the Office of Residence Life for a disciplinary infraction, they also receive an insert from the Peer Advocates of Judicial Council, a group that assists them throughout the process.

Senior Susanna Sullivan, President of the Judicial Council, said this service is a crucial resource for students unsure of whom to ask for advice when preparing for an encounter with Residence Life.

“I’ve been surprised about the number of people who have told us that they haven’t told their friends because [their infraction] is embarrassing … but these kids still need to tell someone,” Sullivan said.

Senior Morgan Pino, vice president of the Peer Advocates, said students look for reassurance during the process.

“Even just hearing [the possible consequences] are explicitly stated in DuLac can clear up issues,” Pino said.

Sullivan said Christopher Haug, the Assistant Director of Residence Life, trains the Peer Advocates in the intricacies of the disciplinary process. This training allows them to provide the best assistance possible for students during the procedures.

“Chris has been great, he’s helped us with training sessions … and he had a mock hearing and mock conference for the peer advocates to learn about the process,” Sullivan said. “We also have resources in the office, from flow charts as to how the process works and timelines [about when] to submit materials.”

Haug said the staff in the Office of Residence Life understands how easy it is for students to make occasional mistakes.

“The people in Residence Life actually are all humans, we love this place and Notre Dame, and we certainly know that our students are good people,” Haug said. “We know that good people trip up once in a while and our current process allows for students to take pause, and then move on.”

Pino said the most important tip advocates give students is to maintain a good attitude.

“We emphasize that it is really incumbent on you and your attitude to affect the outcome,” Pino said. “If anything we’re trying to encourage honesty, [for the student] to not hold back, but students aren’t necessarily prepared to be as honest with Residence Life as they have to be.”

Haug said an open attitude will help students move on from the disciplinary incident after proceedings with Residence Life end.

“I think my advice to any student when coming in is just to remain calm, truthful and honest, and to know that the idea of Res Life is often more scary than [Res Life] itself,” Haug said. “Those of us here at Residence Life want to restore them to a full part in the community, that’s the most important part.”

Haug said the severity of the offense determines whether Residence Life meets with students in a hearing or a conference.

“Conferences are our more informal setting, with usually the student one on one with the officer from Res Life and if the student lives on campus, the rector comes as well,” Haug said. “A hearing is our more formal setting, which would be a student, three conduct officers and the rector if the student lives on campus … the hearing is also an opportunity for us to call in any pertinent witnesses.”

Haug said Residence Life is updating its disciplinary process to ensure it responds to the needs articulated by Notre Dame students.

“We’re cleaning house, going through our process … [and] how we deal with policy violations,” Haug said. “We’re seeing what is a little worn out or old, checking what some of our peer institutions are doing and asking around campus.”

Based on focus groups of students, faculty and staff on campus, Haug said Residence Life improves their plans in response to concerns voiced by those in attendance.

“One thing that came out of these meetings from the student perspective was, ‘We don’t want other students up in our business,'” Haug said. “We heard really clearly that they do not want other students to be a part of the decision-making office.”

Haug said Residence Life holds open office hours every Friday from 11 a.m. to noon to further its ability to respond to the concerns of the Notre Dame community. The alterations to the Residence Life process will be introduced in the fall, Haug said.

Haug said the Peer Advocates are the best resource available for students who need to navigate the disciplinary process.

“I think that they’re underutilized for a group of great people who have a wonderful service to provide to the other students,” Haug said. “The thing is that they have received all of this training… [and] you have this really great group of people saying, ‘I’ll walk with the student on this journey.'”

Students can reach Peer Advocates through the Judicial Council at 574-631-5136 or at [email protected]