Student advocates guide peers through judicial process

The Tufts Community Union Judiciary’s (TCU-J) Judicial Advocacy Program has been newly renovated in order to connect students facing disciplinary action with trained advocates to navigate Tufts’ judicial process and offer confidential and objective advice.

The program, which was revived last semester through the collaboration of Judiciary Advocacy Chair Sophie Gomez and Judicial Affairs Administrator Mickey Toogood, had fallen into disuse over past years, according to Toogood. He added that after assuming his current position last August, he wanted to get the program running again and connected with Gomez, a first-year.

“My job was to kind of reinvent the Judicial Advocacy [Program], and we actually used to have the Judicial Advocates at Tufts years ago, but they kind of fizzled out,” Gomez noted.

Toogood explained that the program is helpful because it can offer students going through the judicial process the perspective of another student in a confidential manner, given that information reported to him or her must be on the record.

“With the Judicial Advocacy Program, the great thing is that they’re not anonymous — you get to know your advocate fairly well,” he said. “They’re sort of like legal counsel, but it’s a way of working with someone who might be able to give you a kind of more impartial view of the circumstances and help you navigate the process more.”

Any student facing disciplinary action can request an advocate, whether that be a friend, family member or lawyer, according to Toogood. He added that the program also offers students the chance to work with someone who they do not necessarily know and who is is uninvolved with the case.

Toogood estimated that there are about 15 Judicial Advocates now, and one has already been requested to assist in a case. The advocates applied and were trained at the end of last semester and the beginning of this semester. He added that he is happy to train any students interested in getting involved, but at some point he may put a cap on the number of students serving as advocates.

“I see the advocacy program as a way to kind of train people to be on the TCU-J, for example,” Toogood said. “It’s a really great thing for anyone who’s interested in being a lawyer, or political science, social justice, you name it.”

Erin Quinnan, a first-year, explained that she went through training to become a Judicial Advocate in the fall.

“Advocacy is interesting to me, but I’m also at the moment in the pre-law advising program here,” she noted.

While much of the training for the position happens on the job, advocates receive a roughly hour-long formal training before assuming their position, according to Toogood.

“I talk them through the basic procedures of submitting a complaint, submitting a response, the different mechanisms — I let them know what a mediation looks like, what a dean’s decision looks like, what an arbitration looks like, what would it look like if they went to a formal hearing,” he said. “And then I take them through some of the basic policies, the ones that are most likely to come up. But a lot of the training is going to happen the first time you sit down to be an advocate.”

Toogood added that during an actual trial, he will ask to meet with the advocate first to go over the policies at play in the specific case and the processes likely to follow.

Judicial Advocates are generally requested when cases are more complicated, if there is a gray area or if it is unclear what exactly took place, according to Toogood. If a student requests an advocate, Toogood will email the advocates to see who might be interested or available for the given case. Of the advocates who respond, Toogood then passes along their names to the student in question, who has final say over whom his or her advocate is, in part in case the student knows an advocate personally, he noted.

Gomez explained that while the program was active in the past and students requested to get in contact with advocates, the leadership had fallen through over the past years, and the involved students had graduated. However, there has been demand among students for the program, she noted.

“According to the deans, in most cases, students will ask for an advocate,” Gomez said.

Quinnan noted that although she hasn’t been at Tufts long enough to determine what the demand for the program is, she believes it is important that students have access to the service.

“If you don’t have someone that you’re comfortable asking to be your advocate, then I think it’s really important that you still have the opportunity to have that resource,” she said.

Toogood noted that the advocates fill a large informational gap for students going through the judicial process for the first time.

“Most students, when they come into my office, they don’t know anything,” he said. “They don’t know we have a judicial process, they don’t know who I am, they don’t know what I do; they’re meeting some stranger with a weird name.”

Toogood added that he hopes the program will continue to gain recognition and students will learn about it.

“There’s a lot of social justice in the air right now I think, which is really great, so I think it’s great to talk about things like advocacy,” he said. “People don’t know what rights they have, so I think it’s good to let them know, these are your rights in the system.”