University overhauls student code of conduct

Director of Community Standards Kevin Kraft poses for a portrait in the Campus Center on Feb. 27, 2018. Rachel Hartman / The Tufts Daily

Content warning: This article discusses sexual misconduct.

The Dean of Student Affairs Office announced a series of changes to the student code of conduct in an Aug. 31 email sent to the Tufts community.

The updates — which impact drug and alcohol amnesty, campus demonstration procedures and hazing, among other policies — are the most significant changes the school has made to the code of conduct in at least 15 years, according to Director of Community Standards Kevin Kraft. They were developed through a seven-month-long collaboration between Student Affairs staff and the Committee on Student Life (CSL), according to the email.

Kraft, Dean of Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon, and CSL Faculty Co-Chairs Andrew Ramsburg and Jamie Kirsch co-signed the email. The email indicates that the new code sets a high standard for student conduct in and around campus.

“Our expectations are rigorous because our shared purpose compels us to act with integrity, self-discipline, and respect for ourselves and others,” the email reads.

Jared Pence, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the Department of English who said he served as a temporary additional graduate student representative on CSL, described a highly collaborative revision process for the code of conduct in an email statement to the Daily. He said that the committee was interested in hearing students’ thoughts and feedback directly, and its members appeared to take their perspectives to heart.

“[The committee] seemed far more interested in making sure students could get help than in exacting punishment,” Pence wrote.

CSL served a purely advisory role in the code’s revision process, according to both Pence and Professor of Physics Roger Tobin, who served as a faculty member on the committee. Tobin told the Daily in an email that the final policy was ultimately determined by the Dean of Student Affairs Office. In spite of this, Tobin said that CSL’s feedback was critical in the revision process.

“Many changes, small and large, were made as a result of CSL input,” Tobin wrote. “Our comments and suggestions were almost always incorporated into the final document.”

Gatherings, demonstrations and protests

Students can expect to face new administrative expectations around the organization of campus demonstrations. The new code of conduct stipulates that campus gatherings with an expected attendance of over 25 individuals must register with the Office of Campus Life (OCL) and receive approval in order to be held.

Kraft explained that the guidelines are in place solely for logistical and safety concerns. He noted that no gathering will be approved or rejected because of their stated content, message or purpose. Rather, the registration process will be entirely “content-neutral.”

“OCL [doesn’t] do a content analysis by asking questions like ‘is this event a good idea, does Tufts want to support this kind of event, is this a good use of money?’” Kraft said. “[Those are] not the questions that event registration is about.”

By working with OCL on the logistics of large gatherings, Kraft indicated that students will achieve a more streamlined demonstration staging overall. He noted that last year an unregistered march up the Hill obstructed traffic and required Tufts University Police Department (TUPD) officers and OCL staff to block traffic themselves in the interest of demonstrators’ safety. Registering in advance could alleviate this issue, according to Kraft.

“If you’re having a big event and you want to march in the street, then [OCL] will help you arrange it with the city so the street can be closed and you can walk down there,” Kraft said.

Groups staging a demonstration must seek that approval at least five days in advance, according to the code. But Kraft acknowledged that the review period is flexible; students can expedite the process if their demonstration occurs spontaneously.

“Sometimes things do come up, that people want to demonstrate about or have activism about,” Kraft said. “We wanted to make sure we had an avenue for people to do that.”

Kraft reiterated that the review process is not meant to restrict campus protests.

“You’re never as a result of the event registration process told you can’t do this event,” Kraft said. “It’s only about what logistics you need to put in place to do it.”

Both the Tufts Housing League and Tufts Labor Coalition told the Daily that they would each be reviewing the updated campus gatherings policy in the coming days and have no comment at this time.

Drugs and alcohol policies

The updates to the code of conduct also include a reorganization and expansion of the university’s existing amnesty policies. According to Kraft, the new policy shields students from judicial punishment in all intoxication cases that result in a medical emergency, regardless of the drug.

Kraft explained that this change was meant to encourage students to act in their peers’ best health interests, without fear of repercussions for their own participation or intoxication.

One significant change is the administration’s process for students who repeatedly required drug and alcohol-related medical treatment. In the past, students faced an escalating, tiered response system that culminated with a required medical or administrative leave of absence after three incidents.

The new code does not contain explicit language or a response guideline for university administrators to follow, as the old code did. Kraft said that this move towards individual responses was intentional.  

“We wanted to consider people’s individual circumstances and make sure that the best treatment and education for them was tailored to what their situation was,” Kraft said. “We found over time [with the old policy] that the best indicator of what someone needs is often not how many situations they’ve been involved in numerically, but rather the degree of the significance of the situation of the potential substance abuse or dependence that might be involved in their situation.”

Hazing

As part of the update to the code, the university’s policy on hazing has been expanded upon. The state law against hazing, included in full in the code, has not been updated; rather, the revision seeks to incorporate new local and national research on hazing.

The biggest change to the hazing policy is in the way it treats people who may not commit hazing, but witness it taking place. The previous policy made no mention of witnesses to hazing being implicated in punishment, with the wording of the university’s definition of hazing highlighting the intentionality of the act. This was despite the fact that Massachusetts law requires witnesses to hazing to report the act.

The new policy addresses the previous code’s omission, stating that “apathy or acquiescence in the presence of hazing are not neutral acts and constitute hazing.”

Whistleblower protections are also included in the policy to ensure that students feel secure reporting their peers for violations, according to Kraft. The code signals that any retaliation or threat of action against someone who reports hazing or participates in an investigation is strictly prohibited.

Kraft explained that the policy seeks to fight against the secretive nature of hazing. He added that even though many people may be there to witness hazing, people feel uncomfortable reporting it. This may in part be attributed to the consumption of alcohol and other prohibited substances that frequently accompanies hazing, Kraft said. He noted that the updated code of conduct seeks to remedy this through Amnesty Through Responsible Action policy, which can also apply in cases where a student reports a crime or serious violation of the code, including acts of hazing, even though they may have been under the influence of alcohol or prohibited substances at the time of the incident.

“The big change is to expand amnesty so people feel more like there’s no barrier [to reporting] in even more situations,” Kraft said.

Kraft noted that one of the steps the university took to evaluate the policy was joining the Hazing Prevention Consortium, which contributed research that shaped the new and broad definition of hazing in the code.

When asked if the code of conduct changes were a direct result of the widespread hazing investigations and sanctions against Greek life organizations on campus, Kraft acknowledged that they played a role, but were not the driving force.

“Our review of [the code] certainly was informed by the fact that we had had so many hazing cases recently,” Kraft said. “But on the other hand I think these changes would have happened without all that stuff, because we were doing an intensive policy review regardless.”

Public nudity

One of the new categories in the updated code of conduct concerns public nudity. Kraft explained that its inclusion seeks to provide a more nuanced definition of public nudity. Previously, all acts of public nudity would have triggered the university’s Sexual Misconduct Adjudication Process as acts of indecent exposure, regardless of whether they were sexual in nature or were performed without consent.

Separating public nudity from indecent exposure will make sure that cases that do not constitute sexual misconduct are evaluated and acted on by the proper body, according to Kraft.

“Either way you come out, there’s still going to be a consequence for that behavior. If you in fact did it, the consequence would be appropriately targeted and tailored to the behavior that happened,” Kraft said.

Like many other changes in the code, the addition of the category of public nudity is the university’s attempt to maximize reporting of infringements and ensure fair punishments — in this case, by making sure the charge of sexual misconduct is used less freely.

“One of the advantages of this policy change is that now we have this process which doesn’t require you to report it as sexual misconduct,” Kraft said. “The label of indecent exposure [or] sexual misconduct, is something that hangs over people a lot, and so I think sometimes that makes people hesitant to report situations.”

Student conduct resolution procedure

According to Kraft, the revised code will usher in a disciplinary system that is more holistic.

“We want you to learn something from that decision to do something wrong and from the consequences of it, so that you’re better off,” Kraft said. “The typical sanctions now, instead of being consequence-related things, are going to be education-related things.”

The code now includes a section on the rights that both accusing and accused parties are entitled to during the Student Conduct Resolution Procedure (SCRP). The policies revolve around each party’s right to see all evidence and participate in any hearings.

Kraft explained that the SCRP now also processes student organizations in the same way it processes students.

“We didn’t really see why we would want to give more or different options to people or organizations based on their status,” he said. “If the behavior was the same, we want your options to be the same and the policies to be the same.”

The email announcing the revisions explains that the community will have the opportunity to provide feedback on the now-published code in a session on Sept. 17 at 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the Sophia Gordon Multipurpose Room.


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