Old Main

Old Main in University Park, Pa. on Friday, Aug. 21, 2020.

After nearly four months since its formation, the task force reviewing Penn State’s Student Code of Conduct has made progress in its evaluation of the code.

During the Penn State Board of Trustees meeting held Friday, Sept. 18, the task force provided an update on its progress thus far.

Members of the task force drafted a 50-page copy of recommendations to Penn State President Eric Barron, and made it clear the task force wanted to settle issues regarding racial inequality and bias sooner rather than later.

The task force addresses potential changes to the Student Code of Conduct in light of recent issues regarding racism, bias and community safety in the university community.

According to Co-Chair and Director of Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, Barron read over the draft and responded positively.

Although Barron has not gone step-by-step through the proposal, he would like it to be presented to the President’s Council. Wadhia and Black Caucus President Nyla Holland plan to present it on Monday, Oct. 19.

Then, Wadhia said, the President’s Cabinet will share its thoughts about the proposed changes.

Vice President for Student Affairs Danny Shaha also believes that the leadership’s response to the recommendations was positive. He is contemplating what the next steps will look like.

Wadhia said the first recommendation was to alter the introduction to the code.

“We were very careful with words in this section and tried to make sure that the sense of belonging was at the forefront,” Wadhia said.

According to Wadhia, this section also recommends a mandatory module on racism and bias for students to complete before they are able to register for classes.

The task force wants to promote equity and remove the ambiguous language throughout the code, according to Wadhia.

MORE CAMPUS COVERAGE

The next recommendation inquires about the “area of jurisdiction” to expand the scope for off-campus conduct.

According to Wadhia, the task force discussed when to hold people accountable for off-campus conduct and the university's current standard for this.

The task force concluded that “the educational interest and climate of students were defined and integrated into what constitutes substantial university interest.”

“One of the most compelling pieces of the conversation that the task force had is related to behaviors that may not be a ‘crime of violence’ or ‘Title IX’ and how we support those individuals,” Shaha said. “I think the task force did a good job of highlighting that. We need to clarify and provide support and resources for students who are impacted by behaviors that may fall outside of the federal guidelines.”

The next recommendation discussed the First Amendment and bias.

According to Wadhia, the task force added a new behavior as a “stand-alone violation” regarding acts of bias that included language on discrimination and harassment.

Hate speech is protected under the First Amendment, so the task force had to discuss possible solutions and restore justice practices.

The final recommendation is a commitment to diversity in the Office of the Code of Conduct and an educational section for those who want to know more about the code to improve transparency.

“I am really hoping that if the specific recommendations can’t come to provision as they are articulated, the spirit can be honored,” Shaha said. “I believe this will be the case.”

The task force’s next step, according to Wadhia, is to hold monthly meetings and become an advisory board during the group’s implementation phase. Members want to advise and help people understand why recommendations are encouraged, Wadhia said.

The force wants to continue to educate students and community members and is interested in a town hall meeting during which people could ask questions about the proposed changes.

“What shouldn't be lost is ultimately how this is about how we treat people,” Wadhia said, “and making sure that there is greater equity for all students and an acknowledgment for many of the injustices that we have seen for years.”

If you're interested in submitting a Letter to the Editor, click here.