Peer-based discipline ‘more fair’

Students learn from mistakes, MCRC vice-president says

MCRC vice-president Jessica Cha says she’d like to see a stricter discipline system in residence.
Image by: Tyler Ball
MCRC vice-president Jessica Cha says she’d like to see a stricter discipline system in residence.

“I’m going to have to document this.”

Those are the words students in residence dread most upon being caught violating any number of rules found in the Community Standards booklet issued each year on move-in day.

Jessica Cha, Main Campus Residents’ Council (MCRC) vice-president in charge of discipline, oversees the organization’s 21 student discipline facilitators.

Queen’s is the only North American university with a student-run non-academic discipline system.

Cha said disciplined students respond better to other students than they would to administrators.

“We work under the policy that residents recognize the importance of a peer-centred disciplinary system that’s remedial in nature,” she said. “Students perceive it as more fair and they may learn more from their peers setting examples than from the administrators.”

Generally, the number of offences in residence is highest in the months of September and October, before decreasing, except for a brief spike in January. Cha said this decrease indicates the system helps students learn from their mistakes.

“I think our discipline system is working very well as it is,” she said. “It’s just the beginning of the year; students make mistakes, but they learn.”

The Community Standards booklet outlines the various levels of offences, Cha said. The MCRC expects that all main campus residents read it upon arrival. Discipline facilitators also meet with students during frosh week to explain the rules of residence.

Level-one offences range from noise to underage drinking, while level-two offences include theft, fire hazards and possession of illegal substances. Penalties for level-two offences—or repeated level-one offences—can be fines up to $300, educational sanctions, relocation and suspension or removal from residence.

Dons and MCRC members are responsible for documenting violations and MCRC discipline facilitators follow up with students and assign level-one sanctions. For more serious offences, students appear before members of a Peer Judicial Board. The board is comprised of three chairs and about 20 members at large, many of whom are law students. Hearings feature one chair, a few members at large and a discipline facilitator.

Cha said she works with Residence Life staff to get the best out of the disciplinary system in residence. Part of her role is sitting on a Disciplinary Working Group, a sub-committee of the Senate Residence Committee that includes the Dean of Student Affairs and officials from the MCRC, Jean Royce Hall Council (JRHC) and Residence Life. She’s also in charge of training some discipline facilitators, including two discipline facilitators living in JRHC residences. There is a ratio of one discipline facilitator to every 150 main campus residents.

The committee made some changes this summer, chief among them the elimination of $25 bonds as a penalty for level-one offences. Bonds are only collected if further violations occur. Bonds from $100-$300 can still be issued for level-two offences.

“For level one we removed the bonds this summer,” Cha said. “We put a fine instead of a bond.”

The committee also reduced the amount of alcohol residents are allowed to possess and introduced stricter penalties for students who damage University property.

In cases where students are suspended from residence, Cha said they are temporarily banned from residence buildings and receive additional punishment if caught inside.

“They’re on their own,” she said. “When they’re kicked out they have to find their own way, but it doesn’t happen very often.”

Relocations, of which there were only three last year, occur when students are moved from one residence to another. Although it has happened before, Cha said students are rarely moved between West Campus and Main Campus.

“We rarely get any relocations; it’s only put in place when we have a really, really severe case,” she said.

Cha said she’d like to have a stricter system, but recognizes the realities of student life would make it difficult.

“I would personally like to have it stricter, but it’s still a university residence. Our job isn’t to police people. We’re here to educate them with our non-academic discipline system. We still have to give them a chance to learn from their actions.”

The JRHC—the West Campus equivalent of the MCRC—covers Harkness International Hall, graduate residences and Jean Royce Hall on West Campus. It doesn’t have a VP discipline—that responsibility falls to its president.

“I did the training for all the discipline facilitators at West,” Cha said. “We have the same community standards for all residents.”

West Campus had the third-most documented violations last year, behind Victoria Hall and Brockington House.

Daryl Nauman, director of Residence Life, which oversees dons, said his organization works with both the MCRC and the JRHC to update community standards.

He said the past couple of years have seen changes to narrow the focus on more frequent offences.

“We’ve tried to introduce sanctions that are a little more targeted to the particular offence. For example, we’ve introduced some sanctions educating on the topic of alcohol consumption,” he said. “That’s an area we’ve seen some growth and furthered our educational efforts.”

Nauman said it’s too soon to tell whether these changes have had a positive effect.

“We just introduced them last year,” he said. “It will probably another year or two until we get a sense of how effective that’s been.

“My initial sense is it has been helpful.”

Most student-run organizations on campus have 100 per cent staff turnover every year, but a handful of residence dons return to serve as senior dons.

There are just enough senior dons to maintain continuity in the discipline system, Nauman said.

“The number of our staff returning to apply has been pretty consistent,” he said. “We have staff who have a year of experience and can share that with new staff.”

Nauman said the capacity for student involvement is an advantage of the Queen’s disciplinary system.

“We have students who serve on our Peer Judicial Board, we have students involved in investigating some of the incidents,” he said. “That’s definitely a positive thing.”

Nauman said the Discipline Working Group meets once a month during the year to work on revising the system. He said there’s been a greater emphasis in the past couple of years on training dons to deal with alcohol-related issues.

“We’ve put a lot of emphasis on community development in the past year or two. … How to have conversations with students following incidents with alcohol to help them make responsible choices.”

Although dons are responsible for documenting offences but not following up with disciplinary measures, Nauman said there’s no disconnect between the two steps.

“There are guidelines for each particular built into the system. It’s not the residence dons, but if additional information is needed then the staff investigating would go back to them.”

A Gordon House don told the Journal dons aren’t allowed to speak with the media.

Meredith Thompson, Comm ’12, lives in Gordon House. She said she’s well aware of the rules of residence, but they’re not enforced well enough to deter rule-breakers.

“The fact that you’re getting written up doesn’t change your behavior,” she said. “People don’t seem to care. Some people have been written up six times already, but they’ve only been actually talked to once.”

Thompson was written up in Victoria Hall. She said she was sleeping on a friend’s bed when two friends barged in. The whole room was documented for a noise violation.

“[The don] actually woke me up and said, ‘You were being too loud,’” she said. “Apparently they lost the paperwork so it never got put through.”

Although she wasn’t reprimanded for the violation, Thompson said she doesn’t think the rules should be stricter than they are.

“If they get too strict, it would just make it even worse,” she said.

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