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Student Conduct Code Revision and Implementation of Restorative Practices

BY: DJ PRESTON

American University is changing its Student Conduct Code to better handle future bias-motivated incidents. The changes were recommended by the Bias Response Working Group, which is a collection of students, staff, and faculty at AU who evaluates the university's efforts in responding to bias incidents on campus.   Along with the change to the conduct code, the university plans to implement restorative practices in the community to promote unity.

 The university is proposing a revision to address "bias-motivated incidents." The revision would mean conduct violations involving discriminatory content will have harsher sanctions. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of identity-based discrimination would be "aggravating factors" to increase sanctions from the university and students' conduct records will reflect that the violation they committed was bias-related. 

If someone spray-painted the n-word on someone's door, previously their record would only show vandalism. Under the revised conduct code, Katie Porras, director of student conduct and conflict resolution, said the offender would  "be charged with both vandalism of the door and the bias-related incident." By recording that the incident was one with bias, it could impact the student's application to graduate schools and future jobs.

The revision does not allow punishment for students for simply saying something bigoted. The First Amendment of the Constitution protects people's freedom of speech. Traevena Byrd, the Vice President for General Counsel & Secretary to the Board, explained that although AU is a private university and not bound by the First Amendment they "still use that framework."

 AU also follows the free speech guidelines from the American Association of University Professors(AAUP), which states "on a campus that is free and open, no idea can be banned or forbidden. No viewpoint or message may be deemed so hateful or disturbing that it may not be expressed."  AAUP argues that a university should be a place where all ideas, even hateful ones, should be able to be openly discussed. By following these guidelines, AU will not prohibit students from simply saying something biased. According to Porras, "a student will not be punished for racist speech or expression when it is not accompanied by prohibited conduct outlined in the Code."

 Along with conduct code changes, AU plans to implement restorative practices. The practices aim to address the needs of the community, resolve conflicts, and hold people accountable following racist and other bias-related incidents. Dr. Amanda Taylor, the Assistant Vice President of diversity, equity, and inclusion, stated that members of the AU community have met regularly over the past year to build their "understanding about the goals of restorative practices," and to "develop a strategy to adopt restorative practices at AU." Following conflicts, there would be sessions with people who were affected, the offenders, and a keeper to facilitate the session. The keeper oversees goal setting and making sure people's wants and needs are met. This is meant to be therapeutic for those who were hurt, as well as hold people accountable for their actions. 

Restorative practices are already showing up in spaces around campus. This year there has been "pre-work" to lay the foundation. These practices are not meant to prevent bias-related incidents from happening, but to create healing after they do. Taylor also stated that with restorative practices implemented, AU hopes to "build and sustain an inclusive community."


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