Review of WU Expungement Policy Reveals Stricter Standards on Cheating than Sexual Assault
Since last September, the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards has allowed students to submit written appeal requests to remove student conduct violations from their disciplinary records. The policy has left some Washington University students conflicted, both lauding its advancements in restorative justice, but concerned about its stance on sexual assault and other violations.
The Student Conduct Record Expungement Policy began taking shape through conversations between the Student Affairs Advisory Board and administrators.
The policy outlines eligibility requirements for expungement, based on the specific offense committed and whether sufficient time has passed since the violation. For the majority of offenses, students must have acquired 90 academic units and have waited four semesters since their case was closed before submitting an appeal.
Conduct records can be requested by other institutions of enrollment, government agencies, and internal offices at the University.
Students who have violated the University’s academic integrity policy are not eligible for expungement, however, the following offenses can be expunged: physical abuse, stalking, domestic violence, hazing, sexual assault and rape.
When a student faces consequences for violating an aspect of the Student Conduct and Community Standards, the Student Conduct Board conducts a hearing, which consists of six members from four categories: faculty, undergraduate students, graduate students, and staff or administrators. However, the appeals decisions are the sole responsibility of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Dr. Anna Gonzalez, or her designee, usually the Dean of Students Rob Wild, and are not appealable.
After administrators drafted the initial policy in 2019, it was brought to the Advisory Board and later the Student Union (SU) to receive feedback.
Ranen Miao, former president Student Union (SU), successfully pushed for expunging low-level drug offenses when he was president, but expressed disagreement with the decision to group drug offenses with serious interpersonal violence issues.
“This was a topic that came up in a University Student Affairs Advisory Board meeting as well,” Miao said. “I made it pretty clear during that meeting that I was opposed to a stipulation that would [lump drug offenses with interpersonal violence offenses], but I was not involved in the finalization of the policy.”
“I think it’s really important when we’re looking at how we want to reform the Office of Student Conduct to think about how we want our criminal justice system to look like in the real world,” Miao said. “We shouldn’t use the disciplinary system to permanently tarnish a student’s reputation, when we can instead focus on helping them learn from mistakes and grow as people.”
Wild explained that the four-semester delay in processing aims to create space between the violation and potential expungement to provide some degree of repercussion.
“There shouldn’t be a violation and then you’re immediately able to be expunged,” Wild said. “There should be some consequences.”
Miao disagreed with this aspect of the policy, noting that if a student committed a violation during their junior year and was hoping to apply to graduate programs that would require their records, they would not be able to appeal it by that time.
“People do not need two years to learn from a singular mistake in their past,” Miao said. “I personally do not support having arbitrary restrictions.”
While most violations are subject to the four-semester timeline, there are five specific offenses that act as exceptions to this rule: academic integrity offenses can never be expunged and four offenses require a longer waiting period to become eligible.
There was a sense among academic deans that “if you allow [academic integrity offenses] to be expunged you’re somehow discrediting the quality of the WashU degree for people who don’t have academic integrity violations,” Wild said.
Miao said the University isn’t treating the root causes of academic integrity violations and is being overly punitive.
“We all agree academic integrity is important,” Miao said, “let’s work on helping people learn from mistakes, instead of imposing the harshest possible sanctions possible without focus on restorative justice or growing from their mistakes.”
Junior Maurice Wang, a member of the Student Conduct Board, echoed Miao’s sentiments surrounding academic integrity violations during student hearings. In some of the hearings that Wang attended, the rhetoric certain board members used expressed concerns about being too lenient with punishment.
“If we don’t punish them, it will make the University’s accreditation or standards look worse, so we have to punish them,” Wang said as an example of the rhetoric used in the hearings.
A student must wait five years after they graduate to expunge records for four specific offenses: drug violations, endangering the health and safety of another, unwanted sexual contact, and threats or acts of physical abuse.
Miao said that drug violations should be eligible for expungement without being subject to a five year delay in appeal eligibility.
“I find it particularly absurd because those three are linked together with [drug offenses],” Miao said. “It is absurd, in my opinion, to suggest that carrying a few ounces of weed is remotely comparable to sexual harassment, stalking, or assault.”
Furthermore, Miao felt that the decision to allow for the expungement of offenses such as sexual assault or stalking while not allowing any appeals to be submitted for academic integrity violations showed poor judgment.
“To say that incidents of sexual misconduct are somehow lighter or more forgivable than academic integrity cases is a reflection of a poor set of moral standards,” Miao said.
Wang said that students found in violation of sexual assault policy should not be eligible for expungement at all.
“If a student committed sexual assault, they should absolutely not have it expunged from their record,” Wang said. “Something like academic integrity…all it does is protect WashU’s bottom line.”
Miao also said it’s important to think about the implications of expunging sexual assault violations after survivors have already undertaken the often-intense process of reporting assault.
“We know that the existing system is already skewed against survivors,” Miao said. “And to take these cases where we definitively know that someone is a danger to the community and to view that as less serious than a student who looks at their notes during a test, in my opinion, is absurd and ridiculous.”