On Monday, two Facebook statuses written by a Georgia Southern University student went viral across social media.
*The name of the student who wrote the Facebook posts has been removed from any quotes within the article due to the university currently investigating the situation. The name has been replaced with [student].
“I’m going to leave this here. I swear if I see this BS at Southern, I’ll make you regret even knowing what a movement or hashtag is, and you’ll walk away with your tail tucked. This whole black lives matter movement is misguided and out of hand. Maybe no one likes or takes y’all seriously because no one can see past your egotistical bullshit. Some people might just look past it, but fair warning I’m not one. All lives matter, that has always been the case, and you are part of the problem if you think otherwise.”
“This infuriates me. Anyone who defends this religion and it’s followers can take a long walk of a pier. This is sickening, all these innocent lives lost. People can’t even enjoy their Friday night without being scared to lose their life in a terror attack, and guess who did it this time, yeah huge shocker….”
Jonathan Chiza was one of the first to post screenshots of these statements to Twitter. His post gathered 178 retweets.
“When I first saw it, I saw it in a groupme and I was like ‘Wow.’ I didn’t believe it. I didn’t think it was really a Georgia Southern student. I felt offended with the Black lives matter, but I was more offended about what she said about the Muslims because my best friend growing up was Muslim, so I was like why not let the whole twitter find out. So that’s why I said ‘Black GSU, what do you think about this?’ I wanted to make sure that I was not rushing to an opinion, because I felt it was a little bit threatening, so I wanted to see how others felt,” Jonathan Chiza, junior information systems major, said.
Many students voiced their opinions, either validating the ideologies of the posts underneath freedom of speech or strongly opposing them. Other students like Chiza, looked at the statuses as a threat to the safety of the Black and Muslim communities at Georgia Southern.
“I want the Dean of Students to really focus on the threat that she said. As a Georgia Southern student that’s not okay for [student] to threaten other students. [Student] can have their opinion, which I don’t have a problem with because everyone has their opinion, but don’t threaten nobody. I just want some thing to happen to make sure that something like this never happens again,” Chiza said.
Though most students responded in a peaceful and respectful manner causing President Jean Bartels to issue the statement that “We are proud of those Eagles who have shared opinions and offered suggestions while maintaining the respectful environment we strive to achieve at Georgia Southern.”, other students chose to send messages back which could also be perceived as threatening in nature.
“[Student] gotta get gangbanged now by 7 black men as an apology. It’s only right”
”you’re gonna have the whole black lives matter community on your ass, and we don’t take L’s.”
“75% of #BlackGSU is from East Atlanta and [student] won’t make it. #fact.”
One tweet featured a video recording of a person going to the student’s place of work and asking if they were working that day.
Since the incident, GSU has released multiple statements, including ones explaining that harassment is not tolerated at the university. The statements also said that free speech and the flow of opinions are welcomed, as long as they are not presented in a threatening manner.
Both threats and harassment are deemed against the Student Code of Conduct.
The Student Code of Conduct defines both terms:
Threats are “a) an expression of intention to inflict injury or damage; b) to cause another person to feel fear for their safety or well-being
Harassment is “a) speech or other expression (words, pictures, symbols) that constitutes fighting words and is sufficiently severe, pervasive, or persistent so as to interfere, limit, or deny one’s ability to participate in or benefit from an educational program. b) following, placing under surveillance, or contacting (in person, by phone, electronically, or by any other means) another person without his or her permission for the purpose of harassing or intimidating that person. Harassing or intimidating means a knowing and willful course of conduct that serves no legitimate purpose and causes emotional distress by placing another person in reasonable fear for the safety of him/herself or others.”
According to the Student Code of Conduct, the whole process begins when a member of the GSU community files a complaint in written form alleging that a student has violated the Student Code of Conduct.
“My office has received several reports from students. We have been looking at social media and asking our investigators and conversing with University police to look into these things and monitor social media as well. So we are actively investigating all of this,” Patrice Jackson, dean of students, said.
Written formal charges (usually in email) are then sent to the accused student. A meeting time is set up within a time frame of 2 to 20 days after the charges have been sent.
“If it is determined that there was a threat according to the code of conduct or according to everything that we have to consider then we immediately take it through the process from there. Sometimes that process takes long than others, because students have different rights and different options to take within the process, so it’s really impossible at this point of any allegation to share how long it might take,” Jackson said.
According to the Student Code of Conduct, if the student is a distance learning student that is not able to attend an in-office hearing they have their case adjudicated either through a telephone conference, e-mail correspondence or through video chat. A follow-up letter with sanctions (if applicable) is emailed to the student upon completion of the hearing.
But if they are not, there are four options of how their case might be heard: before a student conduct officer (administrative decision), the University Student Conduct Board, a formal hearing officer or the student conduct officer may at his/her discretion refer any case to the University Student Conduct Board or a formal hearing officer.
Though many would like to know which way events in the past few days will be handled and what the outcome will be this is not possible.
“Any conduct matter concerning a student is federally protected. We are not at liberty to share the details of our interactions with any individual student,” Jackson said.”
Though the GSU community will not know the exact ways that any possible break in the Student Code of Conduct in the last few days will be handled, how the Student Code of Conduct outlines the procedures for formal hearings is another story.
Formal hearings are normally conducted in private. Audio recordings are prohibited unless made by student code of conduct officers and remain the property of GSU and may only be reviewed by the complainant or the accused student if they want to appeal.
Presenting the case
The complaint and accused student as well as any victim/witness who is not the complaining party has the right to be assisted by an advisor who they choose. The advisor can even be an attorney. The advisor is not allowed to represent the accused student in any portion of the hearing, but just advises them in written form.
From there, the student conduct officer presents the case for the complainant and the University, while the accused student (with the aid of their advisor, if they have one) are responsible for presenting their case.
The following information is compiled from the GSU Student Code of Conduct.
The complainant, the student conduct officer, and the accused student have the right to call witnesses. The University Conduct Board, the formal hearing officer and the University Conduct Board chairperson are then allowed to question witnesses, including the complainant and the accused student. The accused student and the complainant are allowed to question witnesses and each other.
“The complainant and the accused student will be permitted to review and examine evidence during the hearing, if approved by the chairperson of the University Student Conduct Board or formal hearing officer. Pertinent records, exhibits and taped or written statements may be accepted as evidence for consideration at the discretion of the University Student Conduct Board chairperson or formal hearing officer.”
After a formal hearing, a decision will be made by the University Conduct Board or formal hearing officer. In the case of a formal hearing with the University Conduct Board, the Board, along with the chairperson will go into closed. The chairperson may participate in the deliberations of the board. After deliberations, a finding of fact and a recommendation will be forwarded to the appropriate approving body. In the case of a formal hearing with a formal hearing officer, the evidence presented during the formal hearing will be reviewed by the formal hearing officer and a decision including finding of fact and sanctions will be sent to the appropriate approving body. i) The University Student Conduct Board’s or formal hearing officer’s finding of fact and recommendation will be made on the basis of whether, by a preponderance of the evidence presented at the hearing, it is more likely than not that the accused student committed the violation(s) as charged.
Upon approval of a decision made by the University Student Conduct Board or formal hearing officer, a conduct officer will inform the student of the decision and the penalty via Georgia Southern email. k) A conduct officer will inform students of their right to appeal the decision or the sanction(s) and be given a written statement of the decision and the sanction(s). l) The student has the right to appeal any decision provided that relevant grounds for an appeal be cited
So what penalties can a student receive for breaking the Student Code of Conduct?
Disciplinary warningDisciplinary probationSuspensionExpulsionRestitutionFines and FeesEducational SanctionLoss of privilegesResidence hall suspensionResidence hall expulsionOrganizational sanctionsDeferred suspension
But aside for any possible actions that could be taken through the Student Code of Conduct, how does the University plan to move forward?
“My hope in my heart is that all of my students feel heard and respected on this campus,” Jackson said.
On campus, the Multicultural Student Center is in the forefront of creating this type of environment.
“One thing that we want to be able to do is hear the students, understand and work with them to make sure these issues are resolved,” Dorsey Baldwin, director of the Multicultural Student Center, said.
The MSC’s mission is “to contribute to an inclusive learning environment by supporting the institution’s efforts to retain and graduate students prepared for a diverse global society. We provide mentorship opportunities, deliver diversity education and inclusion training, celebrate the cultural diversity of all students, and advocate for underrepresented groups in the Georgia Southern University community guided by the University mission and CAS standards.”
“I hope that everything that has happened encourages students to have respectful conversations that allow you to empathize with another person. That’s when real change happens. I hope there is more dialogue about how we can work to create a truly diverse campus,” Baldwin said.
If there is one thing that can be learned from this situation is that students should be very careful with what they post on social media. As the Student Code of Conduct says “Students should be aware that information and communications they post on the Internet, including but not limited to social media, Internet message boards, forums, web pages and blogs are public in nature. Where information and communications posted in these manners violate the Student Conduct Code, or provide information documenting a violation of the Student Conduct Code such information or communications may be used in conduct proceedings. In particular, communications that violate the Student Conduct Code, such as threats and harassment, are violations whether they are transmitted in person, by phone, over the Internet, or by any other means.”
Rights of the Victim and Students
Should an accused student fail to appear for his/her hearing or choose to limit or withhold a response to charges against him/her, the chairperson shall nevertheless proceed with the hearing. An accused student shall not be found responsible for a violation of the Student Conduct Code solely because he/she chooses to remain silent.
As a student of Georgia Southern University, if you feel you are a victim of either a violation of the law or of the Student Conduct Code, you have the following rights: 1) Regardless of whether an act is in violation of the law, the victim may file a report alleging a violation of the Student Conduct Code. 2) To have an advisor accompany them throughout the student conduct process. 3) To submit a victim impact statement prior to a penalty being imposed. 4) To have past unrelated behavior excluded from the hearing.
A student or student organization of Georgia Southern University charged with a violation of the Student Conduct Code has the following rights: 1) To receive a written statement of the charges. 2) To receive a fair and impartial hearing. 3) To know the nature of the evidence against them and the names of witnesses scheduled to appear. 4) To present evidence and witnesses in their own behalf. 5) To be accompanied at a hearing by an advisor or Student Conduct Advocate of their choice. 6) To be present at the hearing during the presentation of any evidence or material on which a recommendation will be made. If a student/student organization fails to attend the hearing, it will be held in their absence. 7) To refuse to answer questions. (if the charges are made against an individual). 8) To ask questions of witnesses (either directly or through a Hearing Officer at the discretion of the Hearing Officer). 9) To receive a decision based solely on the evidence presented. 10)To have a record made of the hearing. 11)To receive a written notice of the decision and sanctions. 12)To appeal decisions resulting from a formal hearing. 13)Students or organizations may waive these rights by agreeing to administrative adjudication. No student is required to agree to administrative adjudication
The 2015-2016 edition of the Georgia Southern Student Code of Conduct can be found at students.georgiasouthern.edu/conduct/student-code-of-conduct