When I work with student affairs educators who are looking to be more effective with college men, one of the most common things I am asked is about conduct. This isn’t surprising given that men are over-represented among documented conduct violations. Most student affairs folks will share that their most significant violations of policy are done by men and the repeat violators of policy are also men – usually at about 80-90%. Many of us are looking for ways to be more effective and less frustrated with the men we see violating campus and community expectations. Here are a few suggestions:
Reframe Conduct. Too often I hear new professionals lament the number of conduct hearings they have because it takes away from their work. I’ve heard numerous folks say, “I wish I had more time to connect with students but I can’t because I have all these conduct hearings.” Conduct hearings are some of the most powerful opportunities we have to connect with students. They are required. They are one on one. Students may be vulnerable because of their violation and may even be willing to be more open about the underlying roots of their choices. The engagement is sustained perhaps for 30 minutes or an hour AND there is an opportunity to require on-going engagement through sanctions (workshops, follow-up meetings, etc.) that the hearing officer believes will best help the student learn and grow. These should be the highlight of student centered practice, not a distraction from it.
Reframe the Hearing. It can be easy to focus our conduct hearings on adjudicating the incident as quickly and efficiently as possible so we can move on to the paperwork. Determining if the student is responsible and if so what sanctions are appropriate is certainly a critical part of the process but it usually doesn’t take very long. What if we tried to spend 20 minutes of a 30 minute conduct hearing getting to know the student? Where is home for you? What are you involved in on campus? How are your classes going? Is this what you expected college would be like? Tell me about your family? Is there someone you really look up to in your life? Who are your role models or heroes? If we did this with sincerity wouldn’t the adjudication be much more honest, easier, and more productive? Wouldn’t having someone genuinely care about you likely lead to fewer repeat violations?
Reframe College Men’s Transgressions. My research indicates that college men often behave in ways that are contrary to their own values out of insecurity about their manhood and in an effort to prove themselves as men according to external expectations. This performance or mask wearing can result in clearly problematic behaviors – drinking, drug use, homophobic comments, sexual harassment, graffiti, noise violations, etc. We should hold men accountable for their behavior but not forget that they may be just as disappointed in their behavior as we are. How can we hold men accountable for their behavior without shaming them for who they are? Shame is a completely inappropriate, ineffective, and harmful strategy. Jason Laker describes how tempting it can be to “bad dog” men by shaking our finger at them and chastising them. This is likely to leave them feeling shame and emasculated. As men we’ve been trained when we feel emasculated to do what we can to regain our manhood, which usually results in escalated hypermasculine behavior.
I once heard Jason Laker describe conduct hearings where he spent 20 minutes connecting and relationship building without mentioning the incident at all. With ten minutes left in the hearing, he would take a moment to share his appreciation for the person and then turn to the incident report. “You seem like a really nice guy. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you. But I’ve got this incident report and this guy seems totally different. Help me understand what is going on here.” Often the person before him would well up with tears. This very simple strategy points out to the student that you see the difference between the person and the performance. You can hold the person accountable for their actions while also affirming them for who they really are – or who they aspire to be.
Reframe Sanctions. I’ve recently been inspired by a colleague, Gavin Grivna who has utilized a commitments focused process for his conduct hearings. This could replace reflection papers as a sanction (because we’ve all read some real gems) or it could be a part of every conduct hearing. He asks the person he is meeting with to share with him what their strengths are, what goals they have or what they want, how they can leverage their strengths to reach their goals, and what steps they are going to take to achieve their goals. This reframes the conduct relationship from adversarial to a coaching relationship. It also provides for an obvious opportunity to follow-up a few weeks later and check-in from a positive and supportive role.