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Balancing Advocacy & Accountability: Advocacy Sanctioning as a Conduct Resolution Approach



By Amanda Mesirow, Coordinator, Code of Conduct, Moraine Valley Community College

 
Conduct officers will be the first to tell you that our job is to address student behavior, but also to help students succeed.  I have always defined my conduct philosophy as “Balancing advocacy and accountability.”  I notice, though, that people do not automatically think of the conduct office when discussing new methods of outreach or connecting students to campus.  Advocacy Sanctioning grew out of that philosophy of accountability and advocacy, and out of wanting to show just how much the conduct process does impact student success.
 

By Amanda Mesirow, Coordinator, Code of Conduct, Moraine Valley Community College

 
Conduct officers will be the first to tell you that our job is to address student behavior, but also to help students succeed.  I have always defined my conduct philosophy as “Balancing advocacy and accountability.”  I notice, though, that people do not automatically think of the conduct office when discussing new methods of outreach or connecting students to campus.  Advocacy Sanctioning grew out of that philosophy of accountability and advocacy, and out of wanting to show just how much the conduct process does impact student success.
 
Advocacy Sanctioning (AS) is a resolution option I developed in two ways: by strengthening existing structure and responses, and by creating new processes emphasizing an advocacy-focused conduct resolution process.  In other words, I was already engaging in Advocacy Sanctioning, I just needed to define and develop the practice.   
Similar to educational sanctioning, AS is not strictly punitive and addresses the root of the behavior, not just the violation.  However, AS goes beyond that tried-and-true (and useful!) process and is defined by the inclusion of these three elements:

1)Advocacy Sanctioning focuses entirely on the developmental needs of the student, including academic, financial, emotional well-being, and identity.  Advocacy Sanctioning is designed specifically for students needing high levels of assistance in one or more of those areas; it is not designed for every referred student.

2)Advocacy Sanctioning requires that hearing officers[1] become advocates for the student.

3)Advocacy Sanctioning helps the student form lasting connections with resources on campus, including the hearing officer.  The length of time a sanction takes to complete is not necessarily related to the severity of the violation or its impact on others/the community; rather, it is related to the developmental needs of the student. 
 
Here is how each of those elements is actualized.  As an example of item one, in AS, the sanction's educational component may have almost nothing to do with the violation.  Even further: the sanction is applied not so much to “match” the level of the violation, but to “match” their needs.  A student referred for an alcohol violation who is having financial or mental health issues (and the alcohol is not a symptom or cause of those issues) could be sanctioned, under AS, to resolutions unrelated to alcohol education. Consider this comparison: a student goes to the Tutoring Center for math help, and shares that they are having major troubles at home.  Would tutoring staff just address the study skills and then send them on their way? No—they would advocate for the student and help them get the other assistance that is truly needed.  Conduct officers can respond the same way.
 
The philosophy behind item number two is more of a shift for conduct officers.  While we engage in advocacy, it is not seen as our primary role.  For good reason, we need to ensure we set up boundaries and that the student knows they are in our office to address a behavior issue.  With AS, once the student has been found responsible, you become their advocate rather than their hearing officer.  One illustration of this change is referring a repeat violator to a different hearing officer.  You are now their advocate.
 
Finally, lasting connections through AS increase retention rates, lower recidivism, and encourage success.  Sanctions are structured to keep them engaged with resources, including the hearing officer.  This is not a resolution process where there is one deadline and it's “case closed.” To avoid a student feeling as though you are “watching them” throughout this process, intentional conversations need to be had with the student to involve them in understanding the purpose of Advocacy Sanctioning and why you think it will help.  Emphasize that you are following up with them so thoroughly because of advocacy, not just accountability.
 
Implementing Advocacy Sanctioning, like a lot of initiatives, takes planning, data-collection, and collaboration.  We have seen a positive impact, quantitatively and qualitatively, and been supported by colleagues in our efforts.   Initial action steps to bring AS to your campus include:

1.Begin data collection—recidivism and retention rates, learning outcomes and feedback, common violations

2.Communicate with other conduct officers and supervisors about AS and your process

3.Communicate with colleagues who would serve as AS resources

4.Determine how you will assess which students are candidates for AS referrals

5.Continue data collection once AS is implemented
 
The more we continue to shift the focus from punishment to advocacy, the more we can be seen for what we are: the staff who holds students accountable for not only their actions, but also advocates for their success.
 
Interested in learning more about Advocacy Sanctioning? Please contact me at mesirowa@morainevalley.edu.  I am also presenting at the ASCA-IL Drive in Conference at UIUC in June, and hosting a webcast on Advocacy Sanctioning with Academic Impressions in August.
 
[1] Conduct Officer refers to any staff member responsible for conduct, including hearing officers.  When Hearing Officer is used, it means the specific staff member who heard the case, not just any Conduct Officer on the campus.

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