Inside the Ministry of Discipline
Most students at Northwest University live a definitively clean, Christian lifestyle. They don’t drink, they don’t participate in premarital sex, they don’t watch R-rated movies–in fact, they signed a code of conduct prior to enrolling. But what if a student were to break that contract? They’d have a direct meeting with Dean of Student Life Kim Stave.
Although it provides several warnings and guidelines, the student code of conduct is vague about how the disciplinary process actually occurs. When it comes down to it, the staff acts based on the student’s history.
A Responsibility to Judge Each Other
The code of conduct advises students to confront one another when observing behavior that may be harmful to an individual’s life–any behavior “self-harming” or “disruptive” to the community.
The biggest problem is students skipping the confrontation and immediately going to administration. The student is then confronted or passed on to someone higher up.
Problematic behavior qualifies as anything from suicidal ideation to bringing a significant other onto campus to partake in sexual recreation.
In a recently resurfaced episode, now former student Ryan Hupp was alerted last semester by campus staff that he was to report to a staff-initiated meeting within 24 hours. The claims against him: drinking and soliciting sex from men on Craigslist.
When confronted by Stave and staff, he was excused from the drinking accusations quickly. Instead, they addressed the latter “in concern that I was in danger of hurting myself,” Hupp recalled. As a result, Hupp was forced into counseling for a minimum of six weeks.
“Being forced to do counseling was terrible…[It] isn’t for everyone, and not everyone needs it,” Hupp said. “This could have been handled better if the person or people accusing me of doing these acts would just come to me and ask.”
Administration would not disclose who reported Hupp’s behavior. “[The way people here act has me] thinking about leaving campus on this occasion. It affects my living, and I don’t feel happy anymore knowing I can’t be myself.” Hupp has since been asked to leave the school due to a third drinking violation.
Not the First Time…But Not the Same
In a another incident, one student was reported for on- campus drinking. The problem was solved quickly.
“[I talked to Sarah Jobson]. From my perception, I was on thin ice with the school,” he said, referring to his actions of possessing marijuana on campus his freshman year.
“But she just wanted to know what was going on, even if it was true I was drinking on campus…she took the time to get to know me, so that was refreshing to see.”
This student never had to talk to Stave, even with a former offense on his record. Why were two similarly-tiered cases handled so differently?
In another, more extreme, circumstance, a student was asked to leave campus due to being considered a danger to the school. The student’s adviser, Dr. Larry Ishmael of the School of Business and Management, could not comment on the incident due to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
However, Ishmael was able to comment on the way the judicial process was handled as he had been present throughout the trials. “Not pointing fingers at individuals,” Ishmael stated, “but I believe a process should be in place that allows the student to feel that they have exhausted all options before it’s over.”
Ishmael had insight in stating this opinion, which he further explained: “I used to be president of the Issaquah school board, and we operated under the policy governance. We couldn’t tell the superintendent or her employees what to do,” said Ishmael, “but we wrote the policy to make sure they followed what we set.”
The process consisted of a progression of courts run by students and staff that would end at the superintendent’s office, should the previous courts deem it necessary. There was also an appeals process for students still frustrated after having gone through the system.
This system varies vastly from Northwest’s. Perhaps the judicial process is the problem and not necessarily the people in charge.
“It’s really important to have a complete process. That was my concern, the process itself…that is what I had a problem with,” explained Ishmael.
The “Ministry of Discipline”
The Student Development staff called their process
the “Ministry of Discipline” with the idea that it
would “enhance the student University experience by maintaining a community which encourages healthy living and learning.”
The staff wanted it to act as a guideline because “students subscribe to various understandings of what it means to live a Christian lifestyle.” Students should abide by these rules to be allowed to stay on the NU campus.
“I think we need to look again at our student life judicial council,” Ishmael said. “We’ve had some changes in position and eliminated positions that we no longer have. We need to keep those things up to date.”
Stave disagreed, and stated, “with every judicial case, we have to balance what is the best interest of the student who violated the standard with what is in the best interest of the greater NU community.”
In light of the background of the school, Ishmael said, “as a Christian university we need to be particularly fair with our dealings with students. More so than a public institution because we set a higher standard for ourselves and our students.”
The Ministry of Discipline appears to be concerned with the NU community more than the individual student.
Community Standards, Community Punishment
Recently, the dorms have been plagued by pranks resulting in community punishment.
On February 5, dorm visitation privileges were revoked due to floor rivalries between the GPC and Grey-Beatty halls reaching the breaking point.
“If the parties responsible for the pranks of this week come forward, the entire community will benefit,” Stave wrote in an email to the dorm residents. “I apologize to those of you who are unnecessarily hurt by the decisions of a few, but then I encourage you to challenge your peers to take responsibility so the entire community doesn’t have to unnecessarily suffer.”
When those responsible for the pranking confessed, the punishment was lifted.
Exactly one month later, more pranking occurred when more than 60 toilet paper rolls were stolen from women’s restrooms in GPC.
On March 5, letters were posted by Maintenance Director Matthew Jacobs outside every restroom addressing the issue and threatening to “discontinue providing janitorial supplies…for the remainder of the semester” if the pranking should continue.
24 hours later, a follow-up letter was posted apologizing for the “heavy-handed approach to [the previous] letter.” “There are local codes regarding toilets…The health department would likely also be interested,” Thuong-Tri Nguyen, a family law attorney from Renton, WA stated when asked whether or not the school can legally make threats involving necessities like toilet paper.
The Student Community Handbook is silent on punishing an entire living area for the actions of a few.
What to Expect If You’re Accused
In any disciplinary situation, students receive an email stating the reported behavior along with a request for a follow-up meeting within the week. From there, things are ambiguous.
“If we are concerned that a student is behaving in a way that could be harmful to themselves or others, we want to talk to them,” Kim Stave said. “[This is just] as well as if a student has violated a community standard.”
Stave explained that students are welcome to “read about the process…[in] the Community Handbook under the Judicial Process section.”
However, the deeper a student ventures into the tiers of violations, the more confusing the situation becomes.
The judicial process never states what a first-tier violation may be, only that it is less significant than a second-tier violation. No examples are given.
Students asked to leave the school should be aware that they will not be refunded their tuition under any circumstance.
Written by Rachel Brewster