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Student advocates on campus assist peers in the judicial process

Published: Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 08:11


Caroline Geiling / The Tufts Daily

Whether as a result of a simple noise violation or an incident as serious as assault, some students find themselves navigating the Tufts judicial system at a point in their four years. Potentially overwhelming and confusing, the process of understanding and sifting through the policies is often eased by Tufts Judicial Advocates (TJA), a student group dedicated to helping students in their interaction with the administration and the Tufts community.

“What we do is that we basically help other undergraduates on campus navigate the judicial process,” President of TJA Rebecca Spiewak, a senior, said.

Spiewak cited both changing policies and the varying amount of knowledge that students have about the Tufts judicial system as sources of uncertainty in regards to their rights and responsibilities.

“It’s kind of difficult sometimes because people are educated by their [Resident Assistants] or they are educated when they first get here as a freshman, and they go through all four years not really knowing how policies have changed,” she said.

There are a variety of violations for which students may elect to use TJA. An anonymous student reflected on his experience and the role that the advocates played in his understanding of the disciplinary consequences he would encounter.

“I used judicial advocates because I had received several alcohol violations, including being ‘TEMSed’ and having a party in my room,” he told the Daily in an email. “I had done a little research on my possible punishments but was unsure of the process and my outcomes.”

Tufts Judicial Advocates, however, are well versed in these policies.

“We stay up to date. We’re trained every semester by Veronica Carter, and for the first time this semester we had a [Tufts University Police Department (TUPD)] officer come in, so we know the policy from all different angles and educate those who need assistance,” Spiewak said.

Tufts Judicial Affairs Officer Veronica Carter, who is also the faculty advisor for Tufts Judicial Advocates, explained that TJA meets with her so that she can keep them informed of any modifications to policies.

Vice President of TJA Jonathan Steinberg, a junior, added that the group works to do more than simply provide information.

“It’s more than just education ... it’s education as well as helping them through the process,” he said. “I would say there’s the formal component of understanding the policies, but also a component of navigating the system and how the process actually goes.”

Spiewak stressed that members of Tufts Judicial Advocates are not necessarily pre−law and does not want students to misunderstand TJA’s intentions.

“I want to emphasize that we are not student lawyers, and we will never ever be that,” she said.

The group avoids legal terminology such as “student representatives” or “student lawyers” because of the way Tufts’ judicial process works. Steinberg explained that a legal outlook might even be a hindrance to the judicial process.

“Tufts judicial process is very much worded so it’s not American legal wording and language,” he said. “Sometimes a person will bring in an actual lawyer and that puts them at a disadvantage because that person’s going to say ‘the defendant or the prosecutor’ whereas it’s very much ‘complainant and respondent’ ... These are policies, this is not law.”

He added that avoiding legal terminology is a good way to connect with students as both a peer and an advocate.

“We as students tend to understand [the Tufts policies] better because we’re not trying to be experts,” he said.

As an example, Spiewak explained that the burden of proof in the Tufts system differs from the national legal system, arguing that the differences between the two are significant.

“The burden of proof is preponderance of evidence, which is not the same thing as in court ... It takes a lot less to think that someone is guilty here,” she said. “You have to prove something completely different if you’re going to assist them.”

One of the main challenges that TJA has encountered is a lack of awareness on campus as to their role in the judicial process.

“A lot of times our biggest challenge is getting people to know that we’re out there as a resource for them,” Steinberg said.

According to Spiewak, there are a variety of ways in which TJA receives cases, but there is no official method. It is usually preferred that Carter recommend TJA when students speak directly with her, and these recommendations occur most frequently in more complicated judicial cases.

“It tends to be more serious cases when [Carter] recommends us,” Steinberg said. “She’s not going to recommend us when it’s a very cut−and−dry alcohol policy type of thing.”

Carter reiterated that she is more likely to lead a student to an advocate in more complex circumstances, explaining that advocates are generally recommended if they are going to have a hearing or if the student is involved in a case, she said.

TJA specializes in assisting students in these more vague cases, in which Tufts’ policy is not particularly clear.

“If a lot of people are getting caught for something that is cut and dry, they probably won’t have an advocate, but if it’s someone who needs to go through a lengthy process and there’s a lot of gray area ... we’re way more likely to get the case,” she said.

Tufts Judicial Advocates also receives cases through word of mouth, as the advocates try to make it known that they exist to help other students.

“We try to be vocal about the fact that we are advocates and [that] everything we do is strictly confidential within our group,” Spiewak said. “I can’t tell you how many times someone [has said] ‘I hear you’re an advocate,’ and then we’ll help them.”

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