Polls open online as RJC begins reform

April 14, 2011

After a yearlong hiatus, the Residential Judicial Council opened campus-wide elections Wednesday for its nine student councilor positions. The restructured body will debut next year with structural changes, but newly elected councilors will largely determine the council’s mission.

With campus-wide elections, steering committee members hope to shape RJC into a more effective and well-received body. According to Natalie Punchak (COL ’11), a former Residential Judicial Council chair and a member of the steering committee charged with restructuring it, the elections will close at 5 p.m. Friday and results will be released Saturday.

“I know of no university which currently has an election-driven student court,” Punchak wrote in an email. “It is an innovative act, not without some risks, but we think it is a necessary one. With elections, we achieve the highest ideals of representation and accountability on both sides—on the side of the administration and the students.”

The steering committee, which is comprised of student members, Office of Residence Life Associate Director Ed Gilhool, and East Campus Hall Director Billy Colona, has worked this semester to restructure the body that was founded a decade ago as a collaboration between the Office of Residence Life and the student body. Previously, the incumbent chair and Residence Life administrators chose student councilors from a pool of applicants.

According to Michael Barclay (COL ’12), another member of the steering committee, other substantive changes to the RJC include a series of training sessions. The council will also hold sessions rather than meeting several times over the course of the week.

This year, however, ResLife suspended the RJC due to its dwindling membership and a skeptical reputation among students. David Freenock (COL ’12), a councilor before the hiatus who is one of 18 students running in the election, criticized the council’s previous incarnation.

“The RJC only created the illusion of student involvement,” he said. “It sounded great and looked great on paper, but in reality it didn’t do anything. The reason it was on hiatus was because student involvement wasn’t high.”

In spite of the changes, however, some students doubt the RJC’s ability to effectively adjudicate violations of the University’s code of conduct. Georgetown University Student Rights Initiative, a student rights advocacy group, has publicly encouraged students to appeal punishments under the current adjudication system, which very fw do.

“Electoral reform is not enough to bring about the organizational evolution that the RJC needs,” James Butler (SFS ‘11), GUSRI founder, wrote in an email. “Until the administration allows the courts to operate as a legitimate, democratic judicial organization, it will neither be trusted by nor useful to the students the RJC is designed to serve.”

To vote in the election, students must plan to live on campus in the 2011-2012 academic year. Each voter can select nine of the 18 candidates from an online ballot.

“As candidates are elected, we give them the power to make changes in tandem with the Student Code of Conduct,” Barclay said. “Ultimately, it’s their baby.”

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