After a yearlong absence, the Residential Judicial Council, a student-staffed disciplinary body, is up and running again with numerous structural changes aimed to increase the number of cases RJC sees and make the body a more integral part of student conduct proceedings at Georgetown.
The RJC was originally created to give students more of a voice in the University disciplinary process. Its new iteration aims to do that by allowing students with disciplinary violations to apply for their cases to be heard by the RJC instead of cases being referred to the RJC by the Office of Residential Life.
The new RJC also figures to have more stability by holding elections for yearlong RJC positions, instead of having members simply volunteer for weekly meetings to hear individual cases.
Engineers of the change hope that this will make the RJC more representative of students and more present on campus.
“These changes have allowed for more student engagement in the RJC and certainly an opportunity for more cases to go before the RJC this year,” said Ed Gilhool, the associate director of the Office of Residence Life.
The RJC has also decided to hold case hearings on Mondays, rather than have the council meetings spread throughout the week.
“We have looked at the efficiency of structures that were in place in years past [so that the RJC] can hear more cases this year,” Gilhool said.
Still, having a case referred to the RJC does not mean that there is a better chance that a student will be found innocent or that the punishment will be less severe.
“A lot of people think the RJC will give them easier sanctions, which oftentimes is not the case,” Michael Barclay (COL ’12), the chair of the Steering Committee in charge of reforming the RJC the past spring, said. “The students have the power to choose what sanctions they want to give and often give harder sentences.”
While the punishments may be different, the verdict is often the same. Both the RJC and Hall Directors must follow the Student Code of Conduct in deciding whether a student is guilty or not and doling out punishments.
The Student Code of Conduct says that a student can be found guilty as long as “it is more likely than not” that he or she committed the offense. Some see this slight burden of proof as the chief problem with discipline at Georgetown and believe that RJC will still be ineffective as long as this standard is in place.
“Fact is, the way the code of student conduct is written doesn’t provide for an increased opportunity of fairness if judged by peers instead of adults,” James Pickens (COL ’12), co-chair of GUSA’s Student Advocacy Office, said. “With a standard like that, the determinations aren’t going to vary that much.”
David Freenock, a current RJC member, also noted a problem with the “more likely than not” portion of the Student Code of Conduct in opinions pieces he wrote for the Voice last fall.
“The ‘more likely than not’ standard, provides very little space for a presumption of innocence,” Freenock wrote (“Silencing a mute: RJC ends, student rights stay the same,” Oct. 7, 2010). “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.”
Freenock did not respond to requests for comment for this article.
Barclay admitted that while the RJC is still “a work in process,” the changes made were a step in the right direction.
“The more students that are involved in the disciplinary process the better it will be,” Pickens said. “The RJC is too closed. By increasing student involvement, transparency will increase, and students will feel more comfortable going through the process.”