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Silencing a mute: RJC ends, student rights stay the same
As a second-year member of the Residential Judicial Council, I could not be happier with the Office of Residential Life’s recent decision to suspend and restructure the council during the 2010-11 academic year. Some students have complained that they have lost a voice in the University’s judicial process, but the truth is they never really had one in the first place.
The RJC was a student-run judicial body that adjudicated alleged violations of the Student Code of Conduct. Most students, however, did not know about this arm of Georgetown’s adjudication bureaucracy because it was rarely used and almost never publicized. It only dealt with small infractions, known as Category A violations. If, for instance, you hosted an unregistered party or you peed in your roommate’s bed—which has actually happened before—or, worse still, you got caught without your GoCard, your case could have been adjudicated by the RJC.
In the Sept. 28 issue of the Hoya, a news article and an editorial championed the RJC as the sole channel for student expression in the disciplinary process. According to the Hoya, the RJC supposedly provided a venue for student input and oversight. Because students were judged by their peers, this process offered more understanding than other adjudication methods at Georgetown. The RJC, they said, was a forum where students could regulate their own community and hold each other accountable for their conduct.
Sounds great, right? It would be. That is, if the RJC actually did these things. The truth is less pleasant. The deck was always stacked against students in the disciplinary process long before the RJC had a chance to affect it. Because, in truth, the RJC has very little influence in the process.
Consider the following scenario: You have recently been cited for hosting an unregistered party. Your hall director reads you the incident report which contains all the relevant evidence: on a Friday in Village A, he heard loud music (Lil Jon’s “Shots”) coming from your apartment; after several knocks, you answered your door, and he saw red cups in your guests’ hands. He does not see other evidence of alcohol. To determine guilt, hall directors adhere to a standard of “more likely than not,” which is ambiguous to say the least. In this scenario, it appears likely that you were having a party. Your hall director explains this as he reads off your sanctions. Have fun not hosting parties for the next month!
Clearly, there is a serious problem with this process. The Office of Student Conduct claims there is a presumption of innocence for all students accused of a potential violation. As a result, the burden of proof rests with the complainant to prove that you “more likely than not” committed an offense. The “more likely than not” standard, however, provides very little space for a presumption of innocence. If there is a 51 percent chance that you violated the Student Code of Conduct, you are guilty. You can forget about the 49 percent chance that you didn’t do anything wrong.
Judicial decisions are not made in a vacuum, either. Hall directors make many assumptions about college life and partying. Who can blame them? However, these assumptions almost always favor the “more likely” and very rarely the “not.” There goes your razor thin presumption of innocence.
At this point, you may have realized the real problem with the RJC: it’s virtually nonexistent. In the scenario I just described, your case was not adjudicated before a board of your peers—you were not even given that option. That’s because the RJC operated at the sole discretion of ResLife staff. If individual hall directors choose to determine cases themselves instead of forwarding them to the RJC, your fellow students will never have the opportunity to be active in the judicial process. Unfortunately, the vast majority of judicial cases are handled this way. Thus, student influence in the disciplinary process is not only rare, but also entirely contingent on whether hall directors choose to relinquish judicial control, which they often do not. There goes your student input.
I hope that ResLife uses this “reassessment” period to substantively increase the role the RJC plays in the judicial process. Every student should have the right to have his or her case adjudicated with some input from his peers, especially since the standards of proof are already weighted against us. But I’m afraid that when—or if—the RJC returns, little will have changed and, worse yet, no one will notice.