Whether it’s for the outfit a friend wore uptown last weekend, for the grade the student sitting next to us got on an exam or a couple for vigorously nuzzling each other in public, we judge our peers. Our judgments are usually fleeting and have no effect on the lives of those around us. But what if they weren’t? What if our judgments were for something much more serious and held much more weight?
For the students on Miami University’s Disciplinary Board, these what-ifs are a reality. These students are responsible for deciding whether students facing suspension from the university will indeed be punished.
“Honestly, you’re dealing with a student’s academic life here,” said Miami senior and Disciplinary Board member Matt Chacey. “I take this as a dual responsibility, you have a responsibility to the students at large, but at the same time, you have a responsibility to the student in question. Is the student’s interest being served here?”
Miami senior and Disciplinary Board member Alaina Morman said she feels the same way about the job.
“Disciplining my peers is challenging — the decisions that are made often impact academic careers, and that’s not something I take lightly,” Morman said.
The Disciplinary Board is made up of 10 faculty members, eight undergraduate students and two graduate students. Undergraduate students must be juniors or seniors, are nominated by Associated Student Government and appointed by the president.
There are two other hearing boards at Miami — Student Court and the Appeals Board, according to Susan Vaughn, director of ethics and student conflict resolution. Each board deals with different cases; Student Court hears every case, the Disciplinary Board only hears cases where suspension might occur and the Appeals Board hears appeals only.
While the bodies may look at different cases, they all have one thing in common — they all use peer review.
“Peer review is a wonderful experience,” Vaughn said. “I’ve been here for almost 25 years and peer review has always been a part of Miami. It’s common on college campuses and it shows that students are an important part of the community.”
Morman said being a student gives board members a different perspective.
“We can more easily put ourselves in the shoes of the accused to try and figure out where they’re coming from,” Morman said. “I also think having students on the board helps bring about another level of regret or remorse from the accused because the last thing any student wants is to look like a fool in front of people who are on the same level as them.”
Chacey said he thinks having students involved is important.
“Miami students are involved in almost every major decision at Miami University,” Chacey said. “Whether we’re dealing with the toilet paper in the residence halls or who gets to stay and who has to go, students are involved in every process. My job as a student justice is very important because it’s a student being able to relate to another student. It gives us a chance to give insight to the whole situation.”
In fact, the entire Disciplinary board hearing process is student-driven, according to Chacey.
The hearing will begin with an opening statement by the student in question, followed by questions from the board. The board will usually ask the student to walk them through the incident, Chacey said.
“We assume everyone is telling the truth up front, we have to,” Chacey said. “This is different from the court of law where people have to swear in and face the penalty of perjury. We have to assume you’re telling us the truth.”
Morman said seeing how people act during a hearing is an important part of the process.
“Observing students’ reactions and the way they conduct themselves during a hearing is also very interesting to me because body language can often indicate whether they’re taking the hearing seriously and if they feel regret or remorse for their actions,” Morman said.
While observing the student in question may help members of the board make decisions, students who sit on Disciplinary Board are given specific training.
“The Office of Ethics and Student Conflict Resolution doesn’t place anyone on the Board without making sure that they’re well trained first,” Morman said.
The state requires board members to take special sexual assault training, according to Chacey.
“I will never forget, one of the first things the trainer did when I first joined,” Chacey said. “I was sitting there and she said ‘OK, Matt, I want you to tell me the greatest sexual experience in your life, right now.’ I was like, uh, you’ve got to be crazy, right? She said, ‘remember that awkwardness. That’s your greatest sexual experience, now think of the worst sexual experience, the most painful you could ever have and go in front of six people that are complete and utter strangers.'”
Chacey said that assault cases he’s sat on the board for are the most difficult.
“In general, sexual assault cases are the ones that will just take everything out of you,” Chacey said. “It just drains everyone in there. This is not something that will die with us, it’s something that will always be with that individual.”
Even cases that aren’t as sensitive as sexual assault cases can be difficult, according to Morman.
“Some might think that most cases are either black or white in terms of the eventual ruling, but that’s often not the case,” Morman said. “Not only do we review the evidence presented before us, but we also allow the accused a chance to state their defense and argue for their innocence. Sometimes that leaves me torn between decisions.”
Chacey said, most of the cases he’s dealt with have not been about alcohol.
“Alcohol is more rare (in front of the Disciplinary Board) than you would think,” Chacey said. “Most of the cases I hear have alcohol in them, but we’re not charging them for the alcohol itself. There are a few exceptions, but most of the cases I’ve seen are at least indirectly related to alcohol.”
Chacey has sat in on cases that involve academic dishonesty, physical assault and student misc
“At the beginning of everyone’s term here, they sign a contract saying we’re allowed to [charge for off-campus incidents] and we do,” Chacey said.
While the board sees a variety of cases and incidents, both Chacey and Morman agree on one thing.
“It’s not easy.”