Are the Deans Trying to Ruin Our Lives?
Are the Deans Trying to Ruin our Lives?
By Linley Frankel, Laura Koonz, Megan O’Shea, Jessica Zikaras
As Social Work juniors we were assigned a semester long team project to reach a consensus on an area of change for the Siena community, and ultimately try to make it happen. As the semester went on we gathered a lot of information and our goal quickly changed to spreading this information to all of you.
Our initial question was – why do students under the age of 21 get letters sent home to their parents after getting caught drinking when they are above age 18? Yes, underage drinking is illegal, but don’t we have some sort of privacy now that we are living on our own and making our own decisions every single day? Many of you have probably felt this feeling before and at the beginning of the assignment so did we, but what happened next came as a shock to us all. As we met with administrators and learned the reasoning and procedures behind the letters, we came to agree with how the Office of the Dean of Students and Residential Life Staff handle this part of the student conduct process and our next question became – why do the students not know this? So we are here to tell you!
As it turns out, informing parents after their dependent young adult accepts or is found responsible for under-age drinking is allowable by federal law, i.e. the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which allows notification to parents without written student consent in certain circumstances, including but not limited to cases of adjudicated alcohol and/or drug violations.
Contrary to what we were all thinking… the deans are not trying to ruin our lives. They are following an allowable procedure.
Our next step was to find out what was being written in these letters. We met with a Residence Director, then Assistant Director of Residential Life Adam Casler, and finally Associate Dean of Students, Dr. Joy Galarneau, before realizing we could not receive a copy of the letter. This is “because each letter is personalized with content related to the incident which is private and cannot be distributed”.
By getting this letter we were hoping to understand the format and content of the information being sent home. We understood that some information is private, but we were hoping to obtain a copy with that information removed so we could get a general idea of common content across letters and the general tone of the letters.
To help us get a general idea of what was in the letter because it is not allowed to be distributed, Dean Galarneau met with us. She explained a brief overview of what is written in these letters and what happens during her meetings with students who have been caught drinking or are found in the presence of alcohol.
Dean Galarneau explained what happens after a student is documented for a potential violation of the code of conduct and receives a notice of charges from a dean or residential life staff person. Although administrators’ styles are a little different, she explained to us that her style involves two meetings with students. The first entails an explanation of how the conduct process (a.k.a. the administrative hearing process) is going to work and includes a discussion of the incident in which the student is asked to share his/her version of the incident. At the end of this first meeting, the student is asked to formally accept or deny the charges against them, and this is documented on a plea form. Then, Dean Galarneau meets with any other students involved in the incident and takes time to think over the situation. In the second meeting, Dean Galarneau presents her findings in the form of a resolution letter, which they discuss and which is signed by both the student and Dean Galarneau. This letter includes: the charges, how the student pled, Dean Galarneau’s findings, any sanctions, a rationale section, which explains why she came to the conclusion, and a reminder about the appeals process.
When an underage student accepts or is found responsible for an alcohol-related violation of the code of conduct, a copy of this resolution is sent home to the parents in addition to a brief introductory letter which encourages the parents to discuss the incident with their son or daughter. Students are told that this letter is going to be sent home when they receive it. Dean Galarneau also explained that she always offers to call the parents with the student in her office if the student is nervous about his or her parents’ reaction.
Although we cannot see how the letter is worded and essentially how students are portrayed, we now have a general idea of what is being sent home. Believe it or not, the Deans are NOT trying to be tattle-tails. Dean Galarneau explained her position as serving as “an accountability partner to assist students in being safe and successful while at Siena College”. As she explained, as alcohol consumption increases among students, grades often decrease. By informing parents of alcohol-related violations of the code of conduct, Siena College hopes that parents will also serve as accountability partners in keeping us on track. It is also important to note that usually, a letter is not sent home for a first, low-level alcohol-related violation of the code of conduct, i.e. for the first time a student is charged with being under 21 and being in the presence of alcohol
So once we realized that everything was being done exactly how it should be, our new goal for this assignment became to spread the information we learned to other students and to address misinformation and lessen the negative attitudes, which we once admittedly shared prior to this assignment, based on a lack of information. We cannot stop letters from being sent home, but we can work to increase our own knowledge and awareness of the laws, rationales, and procedures on our very own Siena campus community.