New Office of the Student Advocate at USG Aims to Support Students in Administrative and Disciplinary Procedures
The College Council (CC) passed a resolution to establish the Office of the Student Advocate (SAO), a new branch of undergraduate student government, in early November. The aim of SAO is to help students navigate administrative and disciplinary procedures within the College, including accommodation, academic and financial aid procedures.
CC approved the initiative in May and a framework for the office in July. The office is headed by 2024 class students Ethan Ostrow and Niranjan Joshi, who have set up an informal support network for students facing school misconduct and accommodation hearings in the 2020 school year- 2021.
“It started last year, when we were both in accommodation and had a lot of friends who were being disciplined,” Joshi said. “We noticed that people were having a hard time responding to these complaints. “
Ostrow and Joshi have helped a dozen students solve administrative proceedings, most of these proceedings resulting from violations of the UChicago Health Pact. Most of these cases were discovered through social media posts created by Ostrow and Joshi to advertise their services or friends of Ostrow or Joshi who knew students going through administrative proceedings.
They found that the students they worked with often lacked the knowledge and time to respond effectively to disciplinary proceedings and found navigating those proceedings to be an emotionally taxing experience.
“You’re threatened with eviction from housing or with a school offense, or something like that, and often when you’re in your freshman year in college, or any year in college, and you’re set against something like that, it’s very stressful, ”Joshi said. “We noticed there was a need for someone like the Office of the Student Advocate to step in and advise students on the best way to go and be there emotionally for the students.”
Ostrow and Joshi cited the Student Advocate’s Office at the University of California, Berkeley as a model for their work. Ostrow said they had been in contact with the Berkeley Student Advocate’s office “several times” over the summer to learn more about the services it provides to students.
The SAO is divided into driving, housing and financial aid divisions. Training of its eight staff members is underway and the driving and housing divisions are currently accepting cases. Although the SAO will provide individualized support based on the specifics of each case, a training document from the SAO states that the office will “advise students on their rights in the process they are in, what the process will look like and on the best way to articulate their complaints to the administrators.
The start date of the financial aid component has not yet been set. However, the office consulted with University administrators, including Provost Ka Yee Lee and Dean Michele Rasmussen, and CC to explore effective ways to help students with financial aid processes.
“The reason we start [with] case work in [the] the housing and driving divisions are due to the fact that we have a good relationship with the administrators of these particular departments, ”Joshi said.
“Financial aid might end up being a little different [compared to the other divisions] just because it’s not a disciplinary process, but rather an administrative process, ”Ostrow said. “So he could focus on giving students more resources [for] learn more about how financial aid works or how it should work in specific circumstances.
The SAO is working to determine how cases will be referred to its office. The office said it will begin arranging public office hours for students facing misconduct hearings to meet with a social worker and seek help.
“Our goal, in general, is to help students defend themselves better,” Joshi said. “We can never defend a student, but based on our experiences as people who have interacted with the disciplinary process on multiple occasions, we can advise students on how best to represent their claims to the University and to best support the defenses that the students themselves want to make. “
For now, the SAO encourages any student who receives a disciplinary notice and wishes assistance to contact [email protected] Students can also apply to work as SAO social workers.