by Shelby Harding
Crime is generally a rare occurrence at Whitworth, a boon to students who stay on the right side of the law. But what happens if a student has committed a crime on campus? Is the matter turned over to the police, or handled by the administration?
The student handbook is of some help, but contains legal jargon and acronyms that may make it hard for a student to understand what, if any, are his or her rights. Those terms, such as the Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act (FERPA) and Title IX, determine who has access to information about discipline, sanctions and other records.
FERPA is a federal law that protects student academic records from disclosure without the student’s consent. While criminal records are generally public records, FERPA protects a student’s disciplinary record from the public. Any discipline from Student Life at Whitworth won’t be public without that student’s consent, unless a crime was committed that posed as an immediate threat to other students.
Title IX-related crimes and violations, such as sexually-related crimes or other violent crime, are usually published for public safety, said Dolores Humiston, associate vice president of human resources.
“The way that Whitworth interprets FERPA is that it protects educational records. We believe anything that is part of behavior or conduct records is part of the educational process,” Associate Dean of Students Jolyn Dahlvig said.
The Whitworth University Student Handbook mentions FERPA only once, but does not include a definition of the law.
“FERPA impacts a lot of areas of campus and tends to live as an academic policy in the catalog, but I like the idea of adding more to the handbook,” Dahlvig said.
Other schools, such as Pacific Lutheran University, dedicate a full page to defining FERPA in the student handbook. PLU also mentions the term 26 other times throughout its handbook.
Terms such as FERPA are not often included in documents like the student handbook because of the cost, said Dick Mandeville, vice president for student life.
FERPA is not printed in the student handbook to cut down on printing costs, and to make the handbook more concise, Mandeville said.
While it may not be a high priority for the school, there would be little objection to definitions of FERPA and Title IX added to the student handbook for accessibility if the funding for software and printing were available, Mandeville said.
Students may not know their rights until after the crime or policy violation was committed and the disciplinary process begins.
In conduct meetings, Student Life faculty tell students that their academic, disciplinary and medical records are protected by FERPA and cannot be shared without students’ permission, Mandeville said.
A clear definition of FERPA and Title IX should be shared with students for greater accessibility, Mandeville said.
But Whitworth has relatively fewer reports of crime compared to other universities in the area. There have been a total of 58 reported crimes between 2010 and 2012, according to the Whitworth Clery Report. The Clery Report is a part of a federal statute called the Clery Act, which mandates all universities to publish a log of on- and off-campus crimes annually. On the other hand, Gonzaga University has had 210 reported crimes between 2010 and 2012, including violent crime, motor vehicle theft and burglary.
Whitworth does not have any violent crimes documented on the Clery Reports dating back to 2010. Nonviolent crimes such as car theft and burglary are the most common crimes on campus, but have been declining in frequency since 2010.
“Anything that is reported goes on the Clery Report. We aren’t trying to hide or cover up anything,” Mandeville said.
Crimes reported by students, staff, or faculty are automatically added to the Clery Report, Mandeville said.
Naturally, if a crime is committed and it is not reported to Student Life, it will not go on the Clery Report.
Students feel secure on campus, according to a recent survey conducted by Student Life. Around 800 students that live on campus responded to the survey. Of those, 630 said they felt their dorm halls were friendly, comfortable, respectful and safe.
Whitworth’s location, small size and zero-tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol have helped keep crime in check, Mandeville said.
“We confront any amount of alcohol and it has a considerable effect on the number of incidents that take place,” Mandeville said. “If you look at the number of alcohol-related incidents that are reported at Gonzaga compared to here, you are naturally going to get a reduction in other things as well.”
Contact Shelby Harding at firstname.lastname@example.org