My First Experience With Student Conduct

By Mairead Kiernan

This week I heard my first case as a Graduate Hearing Officer with the Office of Student Conduct. I had only shadowed two cases before this one and to say I was a bit nervous would be a huge understatement. When I was shadowing, it seemed like the women who work in OSC full-time asked all the right questions at all the right times…questions it was taking me a minute or two to even come up with. After hearing this case, meeting with OSC, and meeting with one of my peers who always knows what to asked, I learned a few things.

First and foremost, as a hearing office, I hold the reins in the meetings. That might sound like I’m on a power trip—not my intention—but I was so worried about not thinking of the right thing to say that I forgot that I can always ask a question, even if the timing might be a little off. There’s a certain finesse to getting students to open up to you, but knowing that you’re in control of the meeting is a good first step to creating a connection with the student or students.

Second, be okay with naming that power dynamic. The final student who came into my office had been through the conduct process before and was trying to push through the meeting and just “get his lashings.” I finally had to say, “Listen, I’m the only person who can help you right now and trying to bully me around is not going to do you any favors at this point.” Now, I wish I could’ve captured the look that came across his face because let me tell you…it was priceless. But after that point, he realized he wasn’t going to be able to just get in and out of my office in a few short minutes, and we ended up having a really good conversation. For some people, it can be awkward to tell someone you have control over them, but sometimes it’s exactly what they need to hear in order to back off.

Third, own that you might be nervous. The poor girl who went first (of the 5 students involved)…I was so nervous I didn’t even ask her what her major was, I just went feet first into her rights and a responsibilities. After her, I was able to take a deep breath, realize that I needed to cool my jets, and the rest of the meetings went really well. I told my supervisor at the OSC that I kind of word vomited at the student and she just said, “Well, you’ll never have another one that was that awkward, now will you?” I can’t promise that because I’m a bit of an awkward person, but at least I know how to deal with those nerves.

Fourth, be okay with the awkward. I’m a silence-filler all the time. Silence makes me uncomfortable and I’ll always be ready to say something to fill that void. As a hearing office, I need to harness my inner chatterbox and let there be awkward silence. Most of the time, the student is nervous enough that they’ll fill that silence and you’ll learn more than you bargained for.

Finally, you can be stern without being an ass. Part of our policy is that if a student is found responsible for drinking or drug use underage, we’ll send a letter home to their parents. The girl with whom I had the best discussion was bound and determined to not get that letter sent home. I calmly explained (while my heartstrings were pulled tight) that it was our policy and it had to happen.

We then had an even better discussion about how she was going to tell her parents and what the conversation would look like, and she even called me later on Friday afternoon to process the conversation some more. Now, like I said before, with the final boy, I had to name my power to show him that he wasn’t going to push me around, but I didn’t need to do that with this girl to let her know that I was going to reprimand her while still caring about it.

All in all, this was my first case. With three more this week and more coming in for the following weeks, I’m sure I won’t feel so warm and fuzzy about all of them, but I do think they’re all going to teach me something. As a shameless plug, if you’re ever looking for ways to ask some of those “right” questions, I’d recommend looking into Socratic questioning or motivational interviewing. I purchased two books on the topics this weekend and look forward to working on my question-asking skills through this learning adventure.

Student Affairs - the First Years

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