Concerns with student judiciary branch

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Photo by Kaity Chaikowsky.

Student Government, as many of you know, is considering adding a judiciary branch which will be in charge of deciding “appropriate sanctions” for lesser conduct violations, such as alcohol consumption, drugs and open house hour violations.

There will be between six and nine jurors who will rotate between hearings. The jurors will be chosen through an application and interview process. The position is unpaid and voluntary.  

Each case will go through a screening process to decide if the violation should be put in front of the student jurors.

During that process, the guilt of the party in question will be determined; the student jurors merely decide “appropriate sanctions,” not culpability.

The guilty student will meet with three jurors to discuss the incident in a recorded meeting with the goal of recommending an “appropriate sanction” to the Office of Student Affairs (OSA). If they believe the recommendation to be fair, OSA will inform the student of the “appropriate sanction.”

There is something very personal about fault. It is a basic fact about humanity that it is unpleasant and shameful to have one’s faults exposed. When Adam and Eve realized they had sinned, they hid.

One of the arguments for the formation of the judiciary board is that being held accountable to one’s peers will encourage students to avoid punishment –and therefore to do fewer punishable actions.

Shame will become part of any “appropriate sanction,” but it is seldom actually an “appropriate sanction” in itself.

The jurors will go through training and will be held extremely accountable for keeping the guilty student’s information confidential, but knowing this doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable to walk past a person who knows your faults.

A solution to this problem presents itself relatively easily: to make the offenders’ willingness to appear in front of his or her fellow students a part of the initial screening process. This would be a step in the right direction, but would not address all the potential concerns.

Student jurors are not in charge of determining culpability. The goal of this system is for students to feel that they are being heard when they plead their case because it is their peers, not a punishment enforcing staff member, determining the “appropriate sanction.”  

This may be true, but it could easily go awry. Resident Assistants, the current middle ground between staff and guilty students, are more than just police men. They are a support system and knowledge base. Some chose their job because of the financial benefits. No RA signed up because they love walking around campus looking for tipsy freshman while their friends are at parties.

The student jurors would be people who volunteered. There are no financial benefits or other perks. The only benefit for the juror that I can think of is that it looks good on a resume.

I worry about the kind of people who would be attracted to this position, and by the very fact that they desire that kind of power I don’t think it is safe for them to have it. The justice system in America chooses jurors randomly, and then screens them for neutrality. Often the sentence “I am excited to be a juror!” is enough to get out of selection for jury duty.

Before SG decides on the new “appropriate sanctions” system I think it is important to look at it a little deeper.

I am sure all meetings that determine “appropriate sanctions” leave the guilty student vulnerable and with some embarrassment. However, the guilty student knows that their judge is a staff member whose job is keeping order on campus.

The new system would take that vulnerable and embarrassing situation and give control of it to a group of volunteers whose only reason to be there is to judge the guilty student. The jury will then look at the situation, a fault of the guilty student, and formulate an opinion.

I am not saying the jury would be without compassion or genuine care; I am saying the vulnerability of the situation is unfair to the guilty student. I don’t believe this system is the most compassionate way to decide “appropriate sanctions.”

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