OCS leader discusses office’s plans for year
Tom Naatz | Friday, September 13, 2019
The Office of Community Standards, more commonly known as OCS, is the campus body tasked with helping students make “good choices,” office director Heather Ryan said. Particularly, she said, the office deals with “social” misconduct — such as alcohol and parietals violations. Changes to office procedures this year are small: it is amending its process for student expulsion appeals as well as expanding its online platform for reporting incidents.
“We educate the on-campus community about standards of conduct, as well as about expectations for what it means to live in community,” Ryan said. “We work very closely with folks in residential life, because they work with most of our students in that space. We also oversee the student conduct process for all students. … We work with students to help them understand how to gain insight into their values, get a better understanding of the impact of decision-making on themselves, on the community and make sure they can make a plan to be more aligned with expectations and also how to implement that plan.”
While some of OCS work is disciplinary in nature, Ryan said the office’s main responsibility is helping students to grow. She said there are three levels of disciplinary gatherings: meetings, conferences and hearings. Of the three, expulsion from the University is only a possibility in the last option.
“For the most part, especially in the conference and meeting settings, the outcome is really focused on formation and growth and trying to help students understand how to make a better choice in the future, or maybe make safer choices,” she said. “The hearing is a little bit more administrative, so having some of those conversations but dismissal is a possible outcome.”
Much of the work, Ryan said, centers around conversations with students.
“A conference would happen at a table, and we talk,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of lore out there, but we’re having conversations for the most part.”
While OCS did not spearhead any new policies this year, the office did make some changes regarding appeals for cases in which expulsion from the University was a possibility, Ryan said.
“There weren’t any new policies — those were not updated this year because we made some updates last year and felt like we were in a good place with that for the time being,” she said. “We did make an update to clarify information about the grounds for case review for permanent dismissal outcomes. We learned from students who were participating in that process that it would be helpful to have a little bit more understanding of what grounds would look like and how to organize something like that.”
Ryan said the main change was ensuring the response appropriately fit the misconduct.
“Initially, the grounds typically talked about sharing information about why [the case] should be reviewed,” she said. “Typically, students would coordinate those based on procedural defect, or substantive new information or a concern that the outcome was not appropriate for the behavior that was exhibited. So matching the actual identification of that through the process with what they had actually been using it for.”
As in previous school years, Ryan said OCS’ priority is to make sure students are behaving safely and responsibly.
“We want to make sure we’re continuing to educate the campus community about standards and about health, safety and how to make reports if you have concerns. We’re a campus that’s really committed to being our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers,” she said. “We want to make sure people know how to do that. We’re working to get into the halls a little bit more and to help students understand the expectation of responsibility. We know that being concerned about another student that sometimes there are barriers to getting them help and we want to make sure we’re helping them to understand and removing some of those barriers.”
To that end, Ryan also said OCS is seeking to promote its Speak Up program, a website where students and community members can report incidents. Though the resource has been available for some time, Ryan said OCS is trying to make it more widely known.
“It’s a website that has information about reporting and about resources,” she said. “It is not anonymous, but it does offer the opportunity to reach out for information. Making a report does not necessarily mean that it moves forward in different directions. You have some agency with that … We realized it’s not in the vernacular. We want to make sure we change that.”
Ryan advised students to always seek help for others in need.
“One of the pieces I would like to make sure we continue working on is understanding the expectation of responsibility,” she said. “I think it’s really important that students understand that helping a friend is never a bad idea. Students and everybody in our community’s health and safety is paramount. I really want to encourage folks to lean more about that. If a student is referred, and you’re getting someone help and you stay and comply, folks are going to get the assistance that they need and disciplinary status outcomes are typically not in play. I want to make sure people know that they can get people help. It’s really important.”
On the whole, Ryan said OCS’ work is intended to guide students down the path that will allow them to attain success in their college careers.
“We make mistakes, and that’s how we learn,” Ryan said. “My hope is that when we have conversations with students — whether that’s in the meeting setting with rectors or in our office through conference and hearing settings — that a student is heard, and that we’ve identified outcomes that are going to address some of the underlying concerns so they can move forward. The bulk of our students are not going to be dismissed. My hope is that they can continue and graduate as successful students.”