Changes in the student handbook: How it happens and what it means for you

Last month, in accordance with a recent audit of the Student Handbook undertaken by the Campus Life Board, an email was sent out detailing the changes made to the handbook all students agree to when entering Hope. This email detailed changes in the descriptions of Hope’s medical exceptions and amnesty, as well as its judicial process. Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with the email’s authors: Associate Dean of Students John Jobson (’95) and President of Student Congress Jason Gomory (’17) to learn more about these changes, their role in the process and what a Student Handbook audit means for the students of Hope.

Seeking change

Jobson started by detailing the initial motivation for the audit: “Part of the reason we did the revision is there was a group of us that did a webinar called the Student Handbook audit. I get lots of webinars just through email, so that one Dean Frost and I were like ‘we should do this.’ We quickly realized, that our Student Handbook hadn’t gone through an audit since it was drafted in the mid-1970’s when the campus switched to community governance. As a result, there was an effective layering. There had been stuff added to it but never any comprehensive review of the Student Handbook. All of these legal changes had happened, so we were like ‘let’s pump the breaks a second and let’s take a look… what really needs to be updated and tweaked a little bit so that its consistent with legal requirements and actually makes sense for students? That’s why we engaged Student Congress right away. We think it’s really important to have students speak from the outset anytime we make changes to the Student Handbook.” As part of said Student Congress, Gomory was able to detail this part of the process further.

Making change

“Whenever there is a revision with the Student Handbook or with any policies relating to it, Student Congress is a part of it. We are a part of Campus Governance, which is the body that actually revises the Student Handbook, but anytime there are those policy revisions, they’re sent to Student Congress to look at and discuss. Student Congress’ involvement actually started the summer after the 2015-16 school year. Yordanas Dessie was the student that worked a bit over the summer with the group to look at the audit, look at what the plea identified, highlight areas that needed revision and highlight topics that we didn’t currently have in our Student Handbook. That was the initial feedback we had. From there that draft was given to the Campus Life Board.” Gomory was prompt to explain the nature of Campus Life Board for those unfamiliar with Hope’s governance like myself. “We have four students that serve on Campus Life, which is a board that is part of our Campus Governance model. Campus Governance is our shared governance model that has students, faculty, staff and administrators. There are three governing boards: Campus Life board, Academic Affairs board and Administrative Affairs board. When there’s a revision to the student handbook, it comes to the Campus Life board. A group of us, four students, administrators, facility, and staff, spent the entire year last year going through the revised Student Handbook, reading through it, breaking it into sections, challenging what was in there, challenging wording, so students were directly involved with that. After that, a final draft was solidified (we talked about it with students and Student Congress) and our four students spoke on behalf of Student Congress, because they would bring things back to our meetings for general conversations and bring that back to Campus Life. Ultimately, it’s passed through the Campus Life board if Student Congress doesn’t have any major concerns.”

Changes made

As for what was in the final draft of the email, Jobson specified two specific clauses they wanted to focus on: “The email that Jason and I sent to all students outlined the two things that we highlighted: the medical exception and the bystander exception. Those we’re really in response to other student feedback we’ve received and are really common in other institutions. The medical exception policy we adapted from Saint Olaf College. I had lots of conversations with their Dean of Students and adapted theirs to fit with our campus culture. I had a lot of conversations with her to try and glean the differences between their campus culture and ours. They’re more similar than different, so I just had to update some of the language.” The bystander exception was more of a legal requirement. We’ve always had two options for when students go through the legal process. We’ve always had the option of administrative hearing or the student facility judicial board. The third option we added was the sanction meeting. The sanction meeting is if the student chooses to admit all the violations, they can choose to work with their hearing officer in that meeting and say, ‘This is what we think is a reasonable outcome.’ That always happened. We just wanted to make it more explicit.”

The Reasoning

Jobson summarized, stating: “The intent was to really compel students and encourage students when they’ve had too much to drink to come back and contact res life or Campus Safety, someone who can help them, without the fear of getting in trouble. We’re trying to keep everyone safe on campus.” Gomory wanted to end on the note of the importance of being informed. “The most important thing is for students to read and understand the policies they’re agreeing to at the beginning of the year. Every year students electronically sign a statement that says they’ve read and understand the policies that are outlined in the handbook. It’s important that we’re actually reading and understanding the rules were abiding by. When you actually know then there’s less of that question when a student breaks that policy and they don’t understand the consequences. It is in the Student Handbook that we’re abiding by when we are students of Hope College. And if there are areas they don’t understand, ask different resources on campus for explanations. Most likely whether it’s a profession, a job or being a part of various organizations, there will be a constitution or a handbook that describes different policies you have to abide by so reading it is just a good policy to get into. I think that relates to best practices. When iTunes, per se, updates their policies, you are notified, and you have to re-agree with them. So being transparent and open to students when policies are being revised was the point of that email. The revision had happened, and Student Congress was aware, but we wanted to be sure the student body was aware of the revisions that were made in the best interests of students.” Jobson echoed this sentiment further, stating: “That’s part of the reason why Jason and I sent out the email that kind of said, ‘If you don’t read anything else read these two parts of the handbook.’”

Why It Matters

While knowing the Student Handbook is important to recognizing the responsibilities of being a student at Hope, there is more to legislation around campus members, as I discovered when asking Jobson about other policies. “I’m accountable to the antiharassment policy, but I’m also accountable to an administrative handbook. Just like you as students are accountable to the Student Handbook as well as anti-harassment policy.” These different policies are accounted for by different governance organizations, as Gomory went onto explain. “The non-discrimination and anti-harassment policy is not something that Campus Life owns per say. We own Student Handbook revisions, but the non-discrimination and antiharassment policy is ultimately owned by the Board of Trustees.” But should a student want to learn more about Hope policy, Gomory’s advice to “ask different resources on campus for explanations” stays true as he continued to elaborate: “If you were looking for more context about those Campus Life meetings, the minutes and agendas are posted to the campus community through InHope. If you go to and go to resources, there’s a link to meetings and agendas, so you can click on the Campus Life link for it and go back through the agendas and the other things that were discussed through those meetings as well as other meetings.” Jobson finished the interview by welcoming students who want to learn more. “All of the campus governance meetings are considered open. Campus Life meetings occur on the first Tuesday of every month, and they occur in the Herrick room. There’s an agenda that’s posted ahead of time. We’ve had invited guests, but we’ve never had anyone just show up. I would say if they want to come, they’re welcome to. They just need to [not] interrupt the meeting.”

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