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Board of Trustees approves hazing, sexual misconduct policy changes in Student Code of Conduct

During a presentation and 15-minute discussion, Dean of Students Danielle McDonald explained revisions to USF’s Student Code of Conduct that are now in line with updated state and federal statutes. ORACLE FILE PHOTO

The USF administration has finalized what was described as a “major overhaul” of the USF Student Code of Conduct, making significant changes to its hazing and sexual misconduct policies.

Dean of Students Danielle McDonald presented a revised Student Code of Conduct on Thursday to the USF Board of Trustees (BOT), the first revision since 2011. The revised code was then approved by the board by unanimous vote.

“The key in the thought process when we were making these changes was ‘were we being fair to students, were students going to be able to understand what was expected of them and what was going to happen to them with their process,’” said McDonald.

The Student Code of Conduct is usually tweaked to remain up to date with state and federal statutes — with the most recent revision inspired by Florida’s hazing laws, which was discussed by BOT members for 15 minutes after McDonald’s initial presentation.

The big revision to the code’s hazing policies was to align with Andrew’s Law, which was enacted in 2019 by Gov. Ron DeSantis after the hazing death of FSU student and fraternity member Andrew Coffey. 

Andrew’s Law makes any perpetrators of hazing criminally liable if someone is killed or seriously injured and provides amnesty for anyone who calls for emergency services, an important addendum made to the code, according to McDonald.

“What this does is hopefully prompt students to call for help and not fear ramifications even if the need for help was coming out of a hazing issue,” said McDonald.

These adjustments have been made across all three campuses — Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee — as USF administration continues to work toward consolidation.

The topic of hazing sparked discussion among the board of the policies and procedures that the university already has in place regarding hazing, including the mandatory state-created modules for new fraternity and sorority members as well as hazing education for student organizations. 

McDonald said the added amnesty policy will be a step toward keeping students safe from hazing.

“[Hazing] very seldom happens in a room by themselves where nobody else saw it,” said McDonald. “The amnesty policy is one of the great strides in that.”

While keeping up with state hazing laws, the code has also been updated in matters such as dating, domestic violence and sexual harassment.

In cases in which a student is a victim of sexual violence or harassment, their rights have been expanded to reflect current law which would keep the victim in the loop of what is going on with their case. 

“We have further expanded their rights in cases of physical violence,” said McDonald. “We still have to protect the disciplinary rights with the person who is charged with the case, but we do want to make sure that our complainants know that we have addressed the situation, especially if they are a victim in the situation.”

The line of revisions seem to continue in laxity as the code’s expungement provision was expanded.

In August 2019, an expungement process was added to the code to help students who had nonviolent cases on their records that could prevent the continuation of their studies in graduate school or cause them to struggle to find employment, according to McDonald.

Now, a student can ask for their record to be expunged a year after the resolution of their case so long as there were no victims or physical violence involved. 

“We expect that in their process of becoming mature adults, [students] are going to make mistakes,” said McDonald.

The revision to the code was approved unanimously by the BOT, as well as a revision to regulations on academic integrity.

Although the academic integrity revision was approved, the language used to describe how incidents should be reported was unclear, with Vice President of Student Success Paul Dosal only saying that they would be reported “centrally.”

The revision made would streamline the process by having incidents reported by faculty using a survey within Canvas, which would then be evaluated by the Office of Undergraduate Studies.

A change in grade after a report of academic integrity will also be processed virtually by the Office of Undergraduate Studies, eliminating the need for a paper form notifying a grade change. 

“In a sense, what the revision has done here is enhance the process and clarify a lot of the language to reflect one USF moving forward,” said Dosal. 

Both revisions have made headway into the path of consolidation, which will be officially completed July 1.

“We started this before the consolidation decisions have been made, but consolidation gave us a great opportunity to pull all three campuses together,” said McDonald.