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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, May 28, 2024

When punishment is pending, one group of students works to protect and assist accused

It may come as a surprise to Tufts students facing disciplinary action that their strongest allies in the judicial process are concentrated in a small organization of fellow students.

The Judicial Advocates is a branch of the Tufts Community Union Judiciary that works closely with both students and Office of Dean of Student Affairs to provide a system of counseling for students going through the student process.

The group acts as a link between the students and the highest office involved in student judicial affairs. The advocates function as a source of knowledge and guidance that can give students certain advantages in making informed decisions regarding their disciplinary processes, according to the group's president, senior David Schneider.

"[The goal is to] outline to the students at Tufts their rights and provide venues they can use to make sure these rights are being honored," Schneider said.

Those who have had first-hand experience with the judicial process at Tufts often attest to how complicated and stressful it can be. Correspondingly, an important goal of the advocates is to relieve some of the stress.

"Sometimes, the student can feel like it's everyone against them, but we are on their side," Schneider said. "Just seeing the calming effect that we have on the students is the best part [of being an advocate]. Whether is just sitting beside the student while at a hearing, or going with them to talk to an administrator or helping them understand the process, we are here to cater to them."

In addition to stress management, the advocates are present to help with anything from answering simple questions to providing moral support to making sure that all paperwork is in on time.

"We want to help students through each step of the process. For example, there are a lot of deadlines. One of the trickiest parts is completing things within those deadlines," he said.

The group assigns advocates on a first-come, first-serve basis in response to requests from students or, occasionally, from the administration. "We don't ever get in contact with [students] unless someone requests it," Schneider said.

Since the advocates are students with few credentials in the realm of law, Schneider said that the training is very comprehensive and that a list of requirements must be met before an advocate is assigned a case.

"Everyone is trained beforehand and must attend several meetings before they can take a case or help a student," he said. "We work very closely with the administration and we have requirements with our training to ensure the protection of the student, the advocate and to make sure everyone is getting sound advice."

In addition to their training, advocates must also agree to a code of confidentiality before they are permitted to work with students.

"Students can tell us anything in confidence and know that we will be on their side," said Scheider. "Disciplinary action can be taken against advocates if we break this code [of confidentiality]."

The Judicial Advocates have also been working to extend their on-campus presence by educating the general student population.

"We do some campaigns where we make flyers that have little absurd rules that people don't know of but that are actually enforced," said Schneider. "For example, 'public urination at Tufts means probation.'"

Each year the group holds a "Know your Rights" campaign, which invites students to join them and listen to the schools' deans, Tufts Emergency Medical Services, Tufts University Police Department, Tufts Online, the Office of Residential Life and Learning, and other administrative figures discuss student rights at Tufts. At the event, students have the opportunity to ask questions and get advice from those who are the most informed.

These campaigns have helped the advocates undergo steady growth over the past few years.

"We've been around for years, but we haven't been much of a presence until recently," Schneider said.

"[When I was] a freshman, there were a quarter as many advocates as there are now. The best way to measure our growth is on how many cases we get a year. It was one to two a year when I was a sophomore, now it's about ten a semester."