SJB Hears Need-Blind Protest Case
At the beginning of October, the University pressed charges against nine students for violating Regulations 14 and 15 of the Code of Non-Academic Conduct (CNAC). In response to this action, Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) President Zachary Malter ’13 and Finance and Facilities Committee Chair Andrew Trexler ’14 sent a complaint to Clerk of the Student Judicial Board (SJB) Karen Karpa.
The simplified hearing for the nine students occurred last night.
“It seemed to be pretty standard procedure for the SJB, speaking from the position of someone who’s never been SJBed before,” said Anwar Batte ’13, who is one of the students facing charges. “We gave statements, they read from reports and evidence, and then they said they would call us with their decision around noon tomorrow.”
According to Batte, the meeting, which lasted approximately 75 minutes, did not seem heated in any way.
“I honestly have no idea what to expect,” Batte said. “It wasn’t adversarial or anything. I think the tone was pretty comfortable.”
The charges are in response to the Sept. 23 protest, during which roughly 45 students gathered outside the Board of Trustees meeting in the Daniel Family Commons (DFC) to demand a part in the ongoing need-blind discussion. Only a few students were able to gain access into the meeting, while others sat in the doorway.
“From what I remember, most of the SJB summons were sent to people who actually entered the room that the Board of Trustees meeting was in,” Batte said.
The students were charged with violating Regulation 14, Failure to Comply, and Regulation 15, Department Regulations.
“Members of the community are expected to abide by duly established and promulgated non-academic regulations,” Regulation 15 reads. “This is intended to cover the operating regulations of all University programs and facilities. These include, but are not limited to, the policies outlined under University Policies.”
Under University Policies, there is a section regarding “Disruptions,” which states that if a protest disrupts administrative or operational activities of the University, the protest violates the Code of Non-Academic Conduct.
“Through many different communications, the administration has identified the problem as the disruption of the meeting,” Trexler said. “We felt that it was a little unfair for the administration to be pursuing charges [through] Regulation 15 rather than through Regulation 12.”
The complaint sent to the SJB highlights the fact that Regulation 12, Disruptions, protects student protests as long as they do not harm the freedom or safety of others.
“The Code clearly says that if those people are playing by different rules then you can file a complaint,” Malter said. “I think the actions were clearly protected by [Regulation 12], and it’s self-evident to me from that. I still have not heard a convincing case as to why this language does not protect the students. And I don’t think students should be held accountable for rules that are contrary to those in the Code.”
According to Trexler, this contradictory nature of the Code needs to either be clarified or changed after the SJB hearings. He noted that any changes would probably be made through the Student Life Committee, which is a joint committee between the WSA’s Student Affairs Committee and the Office of Student Life.
“They’re [the administrators are] also willing to look at the codes after this whole affair and decide both with administrators and students, probably through the Student Life Committee, to talk about the code and determine if it’s contradictory,” Trexler said. “If so, it needs to be changed; if not, it has to be clarified.”
Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students Rick Culliton wrote an email to the signatories of the complaint on Tuesday, Oct. 9. When asked to clarify his email, he said that the complaint was not in agreement with the University’s policy.
“The complaint was asking for an injunction on the judicial process,” Culliton said. “What was requested in this case was different from what the policy intended. We’ve never had people request an injunction to stop the Judicial Board from hearing a case. That’s not the purpose of what the language is when it talks about enjoining a decision or situation.”
Malter claims that clarifying the Code after the hearings have been held would be inadequate.
“I don’t think that’s sufficient,” he said. “I think, by charging these students, the message has been sent that respectful, peaceful engagement is not okay. So I think it’s a step in the right direction to revisit the Code after, but the damage has been done, and I respectfully disagree with Dean Rick’s email. And I think the Code contradicts his points.”
Culliton said that he believes the Code is currently coherent.
“I think our disruptions policy is very clear,” he said. “There are ways for people to raise concerns about things that are happening on campus and decisions that are made that don’t disrupt other people’s ability to move, that don’t disregard what Public Safety has instructed people to do... When situations that cross those lines in terms of interrupting University business, or as the policy talks about the academic or curricular operations of the University, in those situations if there’s an alleged violation of the Code of Conduct, those situations would be referred to the Board to be reviewed at a hearing. I think that’s happened in this case.”
Fifty-seven students signed the complaint. Although Malter and Trexler wrote the complaint as students, the WSA endorsed portions of the complaint on Oct. 7 in the “Student Judicial Reform Resolution,” available online at the WSA’s website.
“It was signed by students from all areas of campus,” Malter said. “It was not exclusive to the WSA by any means. But the WSA did endorse it in a resolution.”
The members of the SJB declined to comment on the case citing confidentiality requirements. However, SJB member Michael Onah ’13 wrote in an email to The Argus that the SJB does not press charges, but instead judges the charges that the University has brought against students based on the Code.
“I do not have any knowledge of how the University plans to respond to the resolution,” he wrote. “The Student Judicial Board does not bring charges against students—we only adjudicate alleged violations of the Code of Non-Academic Conduct based on charges brought to us either through Public Safety, the University, or ResLife.”
Both Malter and Trexler expressed concern for the University’s culture of activism following this incident.
“I’ve heard from some students that they’re less inclined to get involved with this issue because of the judicial ramifications,” Malter said. “And I think that’s deeply problematic and could have huge negative impacts on the community if students are feeling discouraged from becoming active. I think the Code rightfully encourages students to be active... It’s really a core value. I feel that the administration’s actions with regard to this really run against that core value.”
Cesar Chavez ’15, one of the students facing charges for the protest, agreed.
“This is a very grave issue and could result in targeting activists in the future, something which is completely divergent from Wesleyan’s mission of diversity and tolerance of all groups,” he said.
Though the final decision in the SJB hearing has yet to be announced, Benjamin Doernberg ’13, who is also facing charges, said that he welcomed the chance to explain his perspective on the protest.
“I appreciated the opportunity to explain our actions, and I hope that the Board makes a fair determination,” Doernberg said.
The final determination on what disciplinary action could be taken against the nine students will be issued to them by the end of the day on Friday, Oct. 19.
Update Oct. 19, 2012
According to one protestor whose case was heard by the SJB, he was found responsible for violating Regulation 14, but not found responsible for violating Regulation 15. The result of this sanction for the student in question will be a disciplinary warning.