SWC fails to safeguard vulnerable students

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Cartoon by Joaquin Junco Jr.

Southwestern College is perpetrating a myth that its students are safe.

Recent events illustrate that is clearly not true.

Instead of joyfully strolling to class, chatting with friends and planning the day’s activities, some students are trapped in an endless cycle of crippling fear and intimidation. They battle harassment, mistreatment or stalking by others, disrupting their academic performance and quality of life. Some quit SWC out of fear, abandoned by the administrators who are supposed to protect them.

Unfortunately, when threatened SWC students turn to school officials for protection, they seldom get any. Worse, they often end up being hassled by the very school officials who are supposed to protect them. In case after case, the Office of Student Affairs does little about serious and possibly violent situations on this campus. A time bomb is ticking.

Federal and state laws require educational institutions receiving federal funding to adopt and implement policies and procedures concerning harassment, intimidation, stalking, assault and battery. A power of swift and fair justice is left in the hands of the administration. SWC’s plan is outlined in the Standards of Student Conduct Procedures and is available at the Office of Student Affairs. It spells out steps that school officials must take when presented with a grievance or complaint. Preliminary Action Procedures are identical throughout the process. A student may submit a grievance under specific circumstances. If the circumstance is a crime, then the responsibility falls on campus police.

Unfortunately, the current leadership of Student Affairs interprets these policies to mean that perpetrators of harassment and stalking have rights that supersede those of the victims. Often students who report crimes and threats find the tables turned on them while the perpetrators are given de facto carte blanche to continue their threatening behavior.

If Student Affairs administrators handle the procedure, expect all talk and no action. Steps one and two include an “informal consultation” between the student, the Dean of Student Affairs, and other parties involved. Step three is a completion of a “Report of Grievance.” Step four, another redundant conference with the student to attempt to resolve the issue. This weak, ill-conceived slog inevitably ends with a cliff-hanger – maybe a slap on the wrist and often not even that. Most often bragging by the bad guys about how no one at SWC can touch them.

Disciplinary Action Procedures are measures taken when student misconduct is exposed. A vague, indifferent attitude is evident throughout the steps. Repetitive, fruitless discussions with the misbehaving student are the only avenues of action, and if a charge is filed, sanctions are weak and ineffective.

Verbal warnings, written reprimands and disciplinary probation pale in comparison to the harsh penalty of immediate expulsion for students caught plagiarizing. Lift some Shakespeare, you’re outta here, threaten a teenage girl, let’s chat.

SWC’s Dean of Student Affairs was unwilling to meet with staff members of The Sun to discuss her office’s irresolute practices. It is easy to see why. The California Sex Equity in Education Act requires educational institutions to have written policy on sexual harassment and distribute it to students and faculty. This document is never distributed during the academic year. SWC adopted a new plan in January, allegedly separating student grievance procedures from grade disputes. This new proposal is shrouded in secrecy, hidden from students by apathetic school officials who concentrate their efforts on penalizing literary theft rather than tangible dangers.

Safety is a very serious matter. Threats reported to administrators need to be taken seriously. Murders, rapes and beatings on college campuses have terrified students from Virginia Tech to San Diego City College.

SWC needs to adopt and execute a fair but firm grievance policy to ensure the safety of its students and employees. Disciplinary actions must be swift, strong and fitting with serious offenses. A casual discussion and slap on the wrist are not enough to keep a harrowing delinquent at bay. Issues left unresolved after the initial meeting call for immediate charges and reprimands. Filing a formal report should be the first step that administrators take when presented with a complaint to ensure the accuracy of details and prevent recurrent offenses. Subsequent measures should include immediate suspension for repeat or severe transgressions, as well as follow-up consultations with the student to guarantee the effectiveness of the actions.

Student safety is a matter that requires the full attention and energy of the administration. One slip-up can mean the difference between life or death.

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