The ASUI Senate unanimously passed two bills Wednesday to hire a second student defender and determine the work load and the compensation rate for each advocate, respectively.
The student defender is generally a second-year or third-year law student that ASUI hires to represent undergraduate students in issues of conduct, like a Title IX violation. The defender is designed to help students understand the process, as well as their options and obligations, while going through the assistance process.
“The individuals who support the student conduct system are there to really help create learning opportunities and help people engage in a process to get them to think about their actions and the consequences that can stem from those sort of things,” said Erin Agidius, director of the Office for Civil Rights and Investigations.
Agidius said on multiple occasions, when two parties are involved, only one student can be represented.
“It was a definite concern that we were not offering a support mechanism to both the complainant and the respondent,” Agidius said. “We have an obligation to offer the same support and resources to both students.”
Agidius said the lack of support led her to speak with Sen. Jordan Kizer to see if ASUI would consider creating a bill that would hire a second advocate.
“I had no idea that the problem even existed until Erin mentioned it to me,” Kizer said. “I recognized its importance and it immediately piqued my interest, as well as my fellow senators, which led to the creation of the bill and its eventual passage.”
Sen. Zackary Spence said he endorsed the bill because he felt there were past issues, in which a student defender either resigned or ran out of time, contractually, before a replacement was found, leaving students disadvantaged.
“I am a computer scientist, and I’m all about making sure you have a backup plan, which is why we need the second student defender,” Spence said. “Our job is all about bettering student lives and this legislation helps to do so.”
Kizer said the new bill would change the pay for the student defender to an hourly rate of $15 and they will receive compensation only when working on an actual case, as well as maintain five office hours each week during work periods.
Members of ASUI also discussed a bill that would change the title of student defender to student dispute advocate, which will later face debate.
Agidius said the current title is too adversarial and believes it perpetuates an “us versus them” mentality.
“When we have the term student defender, we have individuals who feel like they’re fighting against the university and we really want to move away from that combative phrasing,” Agidius said. “We want students to feel like they have an advocate or a representative to advise them through the process and to help them understand it.”
Olivia Heersink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @heersinkolivia