Taking a New Approach to Student Conduct at Cornell
The Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards (OSCCS) launched in the summer of 2021 with the goal of supporting the holistic development of the student experience by reimagining how Cornell addresses and resolves behavioral concerns through the student conduct process. Now, 10 months into its inaugural year, the OSCCS team, housed within the Office of the Dean of Students and led by Director, Christina Liang, has taken steps to that end, revitalizing its role and distinguishing itself from its predecessor, the Office of the Judicial Administrator (OJA).
Whereas the OJA was focused on a formal and legalistic process, the OSCCS and the new Student Code of Conduct (Code) focuses on a restorative, educational approach and collaborative conflict resolution to empower students to make better decisions in the future. “Imbedding restorative practices in student conduct is an approach adopted by many institutions of higher education and has proved to be an effective method to address behavior with support for everyone involved,” says Liang.
Rather than utilize deterrence-based measures that have the propensity to result in punitive and inequitable outcomes, the OSCCS staff helps resolve reports of misconduct by working with the community members involved. “The new approach our office takes to addressing behavior helps participants better understand the root cause of behavior that comes to the surface,” Liang says. “The OSCCS helps those who have violated the Code see how their behaviors may impede their ability to be successful, including how others were affected. For students harmed by the behavior, the OSCCS finds ways to help repair the harm experienced so trust can be resolved between everyone involved,” says Liang.
Students who violate the Code can typically expect to engage in reflective exercises. Where the behavior was due to a lack of skills, resources, or knowledge, the OSCCS helps fill these gaps by connecting students to resources within the Cornell community, such as workshops on decision-making, alcohol and other drug use, and conflict de-escalation. The OSCCS staff do not talk about accountability and repercussions in the traditional sense; instead, they ask students who violated the Code to actively participate in a conduct process that humanizes their mistakes and treats them as the unique individual they are.
“Humans make mistakes. Students are going through a pivotal developmental time in college. We want students to be successful and that includes learning from mistakes and more importantly, growing from them,” says Marla Love, Robert W. and Elizabeth C. Staley Dean of Students. Liang adds, “The OSCCS resolves reports to our office by focusing on a student’s personal development while upholding community standards.”
To support these efforts, the OSCCS is building infrastructure from the ground up. The office has added staff members and partners with a multitude of campus organizations, including Housing and Residential Life, Athletics, Sorority and Fraternity Life, Campus Activities, Community Response Team, and CUPD. Liang informs, “While previous partnerships with the OJA focused on reporting behavior that already occurred, our new partnerships focus on proactive education, ways our office support creating and maintaining positive communities across campus, and how the student conduct process plays a role in helping to restore trust and repair harm in instances where there is a violation of the Code.”
One key to implementing the OSCCS mission is the Campus Mediation Practicum, a program through ILR’s Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution. “Our collaboration with the Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution (SI) is wrapping up its fifth year… With the implementation of a more explicitly restorative Code, we have expanded the options to incorporate student mediators into the conduct process, including in resolution methods such as Restorative Mediation, Restorative Justice Conferences, and more recently, Resolution meetings.” This program creates opportunities for students to put theory to practice by mediating actual reports to the OSCCS.
Additionally, the OSCCS educates students about the Good Samaritan Protocol (GSP), which grants students immunity from conduct action when someone calls for help on their behalf. A longstanding protocol, in spring 2022, the OSCCS began requesting conversations with students who qualified for GSP to foster greater understanding of the policy and help them navigate forward. The OSCCS also now reaches out to the students who call for help. “We acknowledge them for their good deed and thank them for being a helpful community member. We are hopeful these conversations will help us identify trends within the student population which will lead to more intentional education to help mitigate risky behavior,” says Liang.
The OSCCS also works with student organizations who proactively seek out Code compliance advice from their office. “When we [OSCCS] get invited, we always show up,” says Liang. The OSCCS is also boosting preventative outreach efforts such as presentations on conflict management and de-escalation and effective communication and programming for first-year students focused on decision-making, curbing risky decision-making and other behavior that is motivated by social norming and peer pressure.
In Spring 2022, says Liang, “the OSCCS began expanding our workshops on transferable skills such as conflict mediation, Gen Z Dynamics, hazing prevention, how to write an effective incident report, restorative justice in student conduct, implicit bias, to name a few. These trainings showcase OSCCS’ mission to use prevention education as a way to proactively address behavioral concerns that commonly arise in a college environment.” The OSCCS conducted over 25 trainings and workshops this academic year.
Asked what students can expect from the OSCCS going forward, Liang states, “They will see us participating more in campus-wide student activities, initiatives through the Office of the Dean of Students, and they can always expect friendly, supportive faces. We want students to feel comfortable stopping by our office for a break between classes. We always have coffee, tea, and candy to share.”