By Anna Mann
Student Government Association President (SGA) Mac Bouldin (C’19) sent a letter to Vice-Chancellor John McCardell on April 12 requesting the creation of a conduct policy task force. The letter was signed by 15 student leaders ranging from president of the Order of the Gown (OG), Kelsey Arbuckle (C’19), to the president of the Black Student Union, Ji’Nae Washington (C’19), to Bacchus Director Chris Hornsby (C’19).
The letter addressed the continued concerns of the student body regarding the “communication, implementation, enforcement, and adjudication of the University’s policies on student conduct.”
In the document, Bouldin spoke for the entirety of SGA when he asked McCardell to consider a task force of students, faculty, and administration to review the current policies of the Sewanee Police Department (SPD), review the Student Life Division’s judgement of conduct cases, and finally produce a report on the process as a whole.
“At the heart of any such relationships are professionalism, transparency, and communication,” said the letter. “We believe that the formation of a task force charged with reviewing policy and procedures across the conduct process is the best way to rebuild trust in these relationships.”
Bouldin claims that the initial idea came up about a month ago, with SGA members drafting the first letter before spring break. The creation stemmed from the “escalated tensions” between students and the SPD that Bouldin saw developing over the past year. According to him, SGA, the OG, and Intersorority (ISC) and Interfraternity (IFC) councils thought a task force might be able to alleviate these heightened pressures.
Bouldin cited communication as the most pertinent problem in conduct policy, stating, “I don’t think that there’s necessarily reason to believe that the police department engages in some egregious form of misconduct. I don’t think there’s anyone in the division of student life that’s overzealous about punishing students. But the ways that the policies and procedures have been communicated shows a lack of dialogue surrounding it.”
As for the formation of the committee, Bouldin says the task force would theoretically be made of those who the administration, faculty, and student leaders deemed most qualified to look into conduct issues.
“Ideally, the parameters would be set by the end of this semester,” Bouldin explained. “So that coming into the fall term the group already knows its charge, its composition and can begin its work. However, we don’t know what the response to the letter will be. So it’s impossible to know what’s feasible and what’s out of the question.”
SGA president-elect Emma Burdett (C’20) agreed wholeheartedly with Bouldin, and actually helped him draft the piece earlier in the semester. She explained that student leaders will work to review the EQB guide over the summer and make edits to be updated in the fall semester. Burdett encourages students to familiarize themselves with the document in order to join and contribute to the conversation.
About rebuilding confidence between the administration and students, Burdett stated: “Having this committee of students to update and revise the EQB guide is going to help rebuild trust. Remembering that we as students have ownership over these community issues is important and I expect that once students know that the policies that govern us will have been designed with the help of their peers, they will trust the policies more.”
According to McCardell and Burdett, a group of student leaders will meet with the Vice-Chancellor on May 1 to review and discuss the current EQB Guide.
“I think I understand the reasoning behind [the letter],” stated McCardell, “but at the same time I think we need to be a little cautious about, not only how we express things, but how the expression of those things is heard by the wider world… I said to [Bouldin] that we need to think more generally about policy and procedure before we start singling out particular offices and individuals.”
The Vice-Chancellor acknowledged the significance of the accumulated signatures but emphasized the importance of avoiding unnecessary stress, especially concerning the SPD.
“We are lucky to have Chief Marie, I think she has a very tough job and does it extremely well… part of their job is to see that the law is observed and part of it is to see to it that the students are living in a safe environment. The last thing I would want, and I think the last thing the SGA would want, is for the police department to feel as if it’s being targeted,” explained McCardell further.
The Vice-Chancellor saw policies and procedures, also addressed in the letter, as the place to start rather than a place to reach eventually.
Bouldin stated that the letter was more of a starting place than anything, saying, “It’s not important whether or not the task force is agreed to. Part of it is showing that student leaders have heard complaints and are acting on them. That’s what’s important.”