Policies in academics, disability, discrimination and harassment are among those being reevaluated in the JCU Student Handbook this semester.
By Allie Zuliani / News Contributor
JOHN CABOT UNIVERSITY — Student Government President, Courtney Smith, and Student Policy Advisor, Betselot Dejene, are participating this semester with the university Deans in the revision process of the Student Handbook’s Academic and Student Conduct policies with the input from the Student Government.
Smith said this is the first time the Student Government has played an active role in the revision process and hopes their efforts will help produce a clearer student handbook.
Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, Pamela Harris, said that the handbook is reviewed every year by the JCU administration to update and clarify policies.
“I am glad that the Student Government wants to take initiative in proposing changes to the Student Handbook, and I offer myself as a consultant, available to answer any questions that they might pose,” said Harris.
The 44-page student handbook includes broad categories with more specific subcategories in its table of contents.
Smith said she is working on the broader category of Academic Policies in collaboration with Dean Carlos Dews and Dean Carla Wiegers. Dejene is working mostly on the subcategory of Discrimination/Harassment Policy with Dean Harris, which can be found under Student Conduct.
Dejene said the Disability Accommodations subsection is one part of the handbook that has received focus thus far.
“We will have to rethink our learning disabilities policies as the number of our students asking for such accommodations has grown exponentially,” said Harris.
Sections like Attendance and Classroom Etiquette already had to be updated to make sense with the move to online learning, according to Harris. Additionally, plagiarism policies could be reevaluated this year.
“At this time, we are actively meeting with Associate Dean Harris, Dean Wiegers, and Dean Dews to continue our desired revisals,” said Smith.
Since the revision process is ongoing, further information is not ready to be communicated on the specific policies at this time.
The handbook revision process is being driven by student input coming from a combination of survey results, informal Instagram polls, and face-to-face interactions.
Dejene’s role was added to the Student Government in the Fall of 2019. As a part of this position, Dejene supports students going through sexual harassment claims and academic misconduct cases.
Dejene said that many of the questions students approach her with are already answered in the student handbook, but they might be worded in a complicated fashion that may draw students to seek further guidance.
As of September 2021, Associate Professor of Italian Studies at JCU, Professor Isabella Clough Marinaro, is the new Student Government Advisor.
“The [Student Government] team is particularly focused on issues of prevention – how to ensure that students have all the knowledge, services, and support they need so that we can avoid cases of misconduct happening in the first place when possible,” said Clough Marinaro.
Smith said when students have questions, it can be difficult for them to get in touch with the right university personnel in the time needed.
“Student Government worries our departments are being stretched really thin,” says Smith, referring to the increased number of students attending JCU this term.
According to JCU Web Communications Office, this Fall term has the largest cohort of students in the university’s history with over 1,400 students.
The Student Government does not have a deadline for when their participation in the revision process will be complete.
Smith said she sees this work going beyond the current Student Government and hopes that it continues as revisions and amendments can always be made.
“I always think that the more students are involved in creating university policy, the more effective that policy will be for its students,” said Chloe Parkins, JCU study abroad senior majoring in Journalism and sustainability at the American University in Washington, D.C. “At my university in the US, the student body is always contributing, so I think it’s great to see that here too.”
Student participation in student handbook policy is becoming increasingly common across the United States as noted in examples at Vanderbilt University, American University, and high schools.
“In general, it is very positive for students to weigh in on the policies that govern their lives at the university,” said Harris. “You probably can’t imagine how open and interested we are to improving our policies in light of [student’s] experience and priorities.”