As part of Careers in Student Affairs Month, we have invited individuals from different ACPA entities to share their unique perspectives on the field through Career Spotlight Q&A pages. We hope these will be a valuable resource for individuals considering work or graduate school in student affairs and higher education. This submission is from Valerie Glassman, representing the Commission for Student Conduct and Legal Issues (CSCLI). For more information on the Commission's work, please visit their webpage.
Why did you choose a career in student affairs?
Until my senior year of college, I was set on working in television journalism as a news producer. However, my incredible experiences as an RA, orientation leader, and work-study employee in the Office of Student Life exposed me to the great work that my mentors performed on a daily basis. I appreciated the counsel, leadership, and role modeling from the student life staff, and I soon realized that I, too, could pursue this as a career. As they had shaped my college experience in such a positive way, I hoped that I could also serve my students in the same manner.
Why did you choose your particular functional area?
I could say that student conduct fell into my lap, although that isn’t telling the whole picture. I started in my senior year of college, serving on the university’s appellate board for academic dishonesty cases after the dean of students asked me while I was working at the Student Life front desk if I’d be interested. I enjoyed picking apart pieces of the cases, looking at whether a student met the grounds for appeal or if the mitigating circumstances merited a second opinion. In graduate school as a live-in graduate supervisor of a 1300-student residence hall, I was required to serve as a judicial officer to meet with residents for low-level violations involving alcohol, noise, candles, and the like. I loved these meetings with my students, talking about decision-making, values, goals, and how their behavior aligns with the expectations and ambitions they have for themselves. When a new position opened at Duke in the Office of Student Conduct, I jumped at the opportunity to make this my primary professional functional area. Ultimately, I believe that the conversations that take place in the framework of the student conduct meeting can be the most transformational for a student, providing a space for a student to learn and reflect about why they are at the institution and how they can best accomplish their goals.
What does a typical work week look like in your particular functional area?
As an assistant dean of students, one of my responsibilities is to serve in the dean on-call rotation, which provides 24/7 crisis management and emergency support to the campus community. Mondays are spent wrapping up the weekend and reviewing all of the reports submitted to Duke Police and our office involving students. This includes not just reports of student misconduct but also of mental health concerns, victims of crime, medical attention, illness, and injury. Every other Tuesday morning the entire Dean of Students Office staff convenes. Our team includes the Office of Student Conduct, the Duke Student Wellness Center, Parent and Family Programs, and DukeReach (case management). During the remainder of the week, I am often found meeting with individual students in conduct hearings or with organization leaders whose groups are reported for potential policy violations. I am also responsible for the maintenance of our office’s Clery Act accounting and frequently serve as an advisor during our conduct board hearings. This semester I am also facilitating a class for a group of outstanding sorority women and fraternity men through the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life called Duke Greek Emerging Leaders.
What is the most rewarding part of your job, and what is the most challenging part?
It is an overwhelming and rewarding experience when a student who has made some poor choices in the past recognizes how their behavior is influencing their personal journey and makes a concerted effort to turn his or her life around. To see a student who has been dependent on alcohol be sober for six months or a student who was suspended for plagiarizing become an advocate for academic integrity is very powerful and reminds me of the true value of my work. On the other hand, the most challenging part of my job is when a student just doesn’t seem to “get it.” It is also extremely difficult when our university experiences a student death. Losing a student to homicide, disease, accident, or suicide is a community-wide tragedy that affects nearly every person at the institution. It is physically and emotionally trying, and as a staff member, I have to do my best to be a support to those who need me and continue to do my work.
What is your top piece of advice for individuals considering a career in your functional area?
You can’t take it personally when a student is defensive or angry about the position he or she is in. It’s tough when you’re talking with someone who thinks that the policy (or law) is wrong and is trying to justify his or her choices, or when you know that someone is blatantly lying to you. It’s our responsibility as conduct officers to explain the policies we have and why we have them, the role of the disciplinary process in maintaining the safety, welfare, and integrity of our community, and to role model positive decision-making in our own lives. Further, being a conduct officer is not just about deciding whether there was a violation of policy. We are almost always speaking with a student from a holistic point of view to determine if there’s more going on than what was first described. Every week I refer at least one student to Counseling and Psychological Services or to the Academic Resource Center for additional support. The conduct meeting reveals so much more than what the student may or may not have done; it’s an opportunity for a student affairs professional to get a glimpse of what a student may be struggling with that could require clinical help.
In your opinion, what are the top three attributes needed to be successful in your field?
First, compassion. One of our catch-phrases in student conduct is that “You’re not a bad person, you made a bad decision.” For those students going through difficult times in their lives that have led them to make poor choices, I feel compelled to always let them know that the disciplinary process is not an indictment of their character or representative of who they are as a person. We know that whatever behavior was brought to our attention is merely a snapshot of a particular incident that is not necessarily a reflection of them as a whole person. I also think it helps the student for the conduct officer to demonstrate humanity. Next, as I alluded to above, having a thick skin is important when the student you are working with is antagonistic or aggressive, but it’s also important to know when to let your guard down. Finally, open-mindedness. What is first reported by residential staff or police is almost never the entire story, and it’s the reason we have face-to-face meetings in the first place. Students come in to speak with us at many different points in their personal journeys. We as student conduct professionals can help them by inviting them, in a “challenging but supportive” way, to realign their behavior with their goals.
What do you believe will be the key trends, issues, and challenges in your functional area in 10 years?
The number one issue for student conduct professionals right now is the focus on policies and procedures pertaining to campus sexual violence and harassment. I predict it will continue to stay in the headlines and at the forefront of educational legislation and policy-making. As they have been for many years, I also believe that hazing, town-gown relations, and substance use/abuse will also remain key trends in student conduct.
What additional resources would you recommend to a new professional in your functional area?
My participation on the Commission for Student Conduct and Legal Issues has been a rewarding and resourceful experience. Through the commission, I have met professionals working in different conduct roles in a number of functional areas, and at a wide variety of institutional types. Being a member of the directorate and now a vice chair has given me the opportunity to discuss concerns that affect all conduct officers on a national and local level. I also recommend new professionals actively seek out a student conduct mentor at an institution other than their own, perhaps a supervisor or faculty member from law school. It's nice to have someone with an outside perspective to bounce ideas around and hear words of wisdom! I would also be happy to connect with folks who are new to student conduct and interested in either the commission or want to hear from someone who's been in the field for awhile.