The Dean of Students Office updated the Student Code of Conduct for the 2019-2020 school year with the intention of promoting the well-being of students and to comply with new Title IX laws passed by the Texas legislature.
“I think the changes will benefit the student body as it provides clarity for our students to really understand our different processes and how we are operating as an office,” Senior Associate Dean of Students Robert Braswell said. “Our approach with the student code is to be as educational as we can with the students to help them learn from their mistakes and how to better themselves in the future.”
One of the changes in the new Student Code of Conduct concerns amnesty when reporting misconduct. When a student or victim reports alleged misconduct, such as rape or assault, but was drinking or using drugs when it occurred, that student will not be held accountable for their use of drugs or alcohol.
“We don’t want to put any barriers up for survivors of any kind of sexual violence or intimate partner violence,” Dean of Students Maureen McGuinness said. “So the amnesty clause allows us to [do this], and we’ve always practiced this, but we’ve just put it in writing.”
Students like chemistry graduate student Mark Hix said they believe making this an official policy is a step in the right direction for the university.
“Making sure that those who come forward won’t be retaliated against is a critical step in changing the culture,” Hix said. “So many of the crimes go unreported because the victim is afraid of the trouble that they’ll get into and the predators rely on that.”
A similar amnesty applies to individuals who seek out medical help for a student who has been hazed by an organization.
“If a student organization has been hazing and somebody needs medical help and an individual were to call 911 to get that person help, that person isn’t going to be held accountable,” McGuinness said. “We might have an educational conversation, but that person did the right thing. It doesn’t preclude the organization from no charges, but on an individual case by case basis, it allows us to help the reporting party.”
Another change included in the new code of conduct is the university’s policy on conduct probation and suspension.
Previously there were three levels of probation and upon reaching the third level, students could be considered “not in good standing” with the university indefinitely. Now they can only be considered this for an allotted amount of time determined by administration with a maximum of six months.
“Now we’ve shifted it to where we’re using conduct probation,” Braswell said. “Students will not be in good standing for that assigned period of time, but once that period of time is over, students will go back to good standing. This gives students an opportunity to reengage with campus and continue to have the opportunity to maybe join a student organization or go on a study abroad once they’ve completed their levels of probation.”
In order to further help students reconnect with the campus, the Student Code of Conduct also details more educational sanctions for students to have access to resources such as behavioral or substance counseling.
“We’ve started partnering with TAO, which is through our counseling center,” Braswell said. “It’s an online counseling or online assessment students can take around different behavioral things or substance use. It really is to help students really reflect critically about their choices so they are able to make better choices in the future and let students think about their actions.”
The Student Code of Conduct changes every three years or at the discretion of the Vice President for Student Affairs, McGuinness said. The new Student Code of Conduct had been in the works for two years before its completion.
“The Student Code of Conduct is really there for all students, not just if you do something wrong,” McGuinness said. “[Students] all have rights when [they] go to a public institution. It’s important that this document not just tells you what the code it, but what your rights are and what the policy is step by step. We try to make it clear if you’re a victim on how we help you, but also if you’re accused, what your rights are and how the process will move forward.”