College Council (CC) passed a resolution to establish the Student Advocate’s Office (SAO), a new branch of Undergraduate Student Government, in early November. The purpose of SAO is to assist students in navigating administrative and disciplinary procedures within the College, including housing, academic, and financial aid proceedings.
CC approved the initiative in May and a framework for the office in July. The office is led by Class of 2024 students Ethan Ostrow and Niranjan Joshi, who started an informal support network for students going through academic and housing misconduct hearings during the 2020–21 academic year.
“It originated last year, when we were both in housing and we had a lot of friends who were being written up for disciplinary action,” Joshi said. “We noticed that people had a very hard time responding to those complaints.”
Ostrow and Joshi helped about a dozen students work through administrative proceedings, with many of those proceedings arising from violations of the UChicago Health Pact. Most of those cases were found through social media posts Ostrow and Joshi created to advertise their services or friends of Ostrow’s or Joshi’s who knew students going through administrative proceedings.
They found that the students with whom they worked often lacked the knowledge and time to respond effectively to disciplinary proceedings and found navigating those proceedings to be an emotionally taxing experience.
“You’re getting threatened with being kicked out of housing or an academic infraction, or something like that, and oftentimes when you’re a freshman in college, or any year in college, and you get placed against something like that, it’s very stressful,” Joshi said. “We noticed that there was a need for someone like the Student Advocate’s Office to step in and advise students on the best way to go about the process and be there emotionally for the students.”
Ostrow and Joshi cited the Student Advocate’s Office at the University of California, Berkeley, as a model for their work. Ostrow said that they had been in contact with Berkeley’s Student Advocate’s Office “several times” over the summer to learn about the services it provides students.
The SAO is divided into conduct, housing, and financial aid divisions. Training for its eight staff members is ongoing, and the conduct and housing divisions are currently accepting cases. Although the SAO will provide individualized support based on the specifics of each case, an SAO formation document outlines that the office will “counsel students on their rights within the process they are navigating, what the process will look like, and how to best articulate their claims to administrators.”
The date for the start of the financial aid division is not decided yet. However, the office has been consulting University administrators, including Provost Ka Yee Lee and Dean Michele Rasmussen, and CC to explore effective ways to assist students in financial aid processes.
“The reason that we’re starting [with] casework in [the] housing and conduct divisions is because we’ve had a good relationship with the administrators in those particular departments,” Joshi said.
“Financial aid might end up looking a little bit different [compared to the other divisions] just because that’s not a disciplinary process but it’s more an administrative one,” Ostrow said. “So it might focus on giving students more resources [for] knowing more about how financial aid works or knowing how they should proceed in specific circumstances.”
The SAO is working to determine how cases will be referred to its office. The office says it will begin holding public office hours for students facing misconduct hearings to meet with a caseworker and seek assistance.
“Our goal, generally, is to help students best advocate for themselves,” Joshi said. “We can never advocate for a student, but based on our experiences as people who have interacted with the disciplinary process many times, we can advise students on how to best represent their claims to the University and best support the defenses that the students themselves want to make.”
For now, the SAO encourages any student who receives a disciplinary notice and wants any assistance to contact email@example.com. Students can also apply to work as SAO caseworkers.