Student Code of Conduct updated with task force recommendations

January 20, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — After a thorough multi-month review by the Student Code of Conduct Task Force, a revised Student Code of Conduct has been implemented for the spring 2021 semester.

The changes, which were based on task force recommendations shared with the University community during a Dec. 9 virtual town hall, include:

  • Modifying the code purpose and introduction by incorporating language that promotes equity and inclusion.
  • Adding “acts of bias” language to emphasize that discriminatory bias and behavior are not in alignment with University values and may result in increased sanctions when they accompany conduct violations. Additionally, and separately, adding “discriminatory harassment” to the code as its own categorical conduct violation.
  • Aligning code language with existing University policy as found in AD91.
  • Modifying “substantial university interest” language to define the scope of jurisdiction of the Code of Conduct to include off-campus conduct matters that may impact the “physical and mental” health of students as well as the campus climate.
  • Adding “impacted parties” language to account for cases where a student’s behavior has an adverse impact on other people but falls outside of Title IX and non-Title IX sexual misconduct or Crimes of Violence.
  • Adding reporting language requiring the Office of Student Conduct to publish certain information, including the number of conduct violations, conduct case outcomes and incidents that resulted in the use of restorative justice practices.

Student Affairs is overseeing the implementation of the task force Student Code of Conduct changes, and University leaders are also working to further develop the task force’s remaining recommendations. Danny Shaha, assistant vice president for Student Affairs and member of the task force, said that the Offices of Student Conduct and Sexual Misconduct Prevention & Response have already made progress, including:

  • Making a commitment to address acts of bias that do not rise to a violation of the code through voluntary restorative justice practices and working with partners on and off campus to formalize and expand already available restorative justice opportunities.
  • Making a commitment to representation of staff members and volunteers in the Office of Student Conduct from historically underrepresented groups. Student Affairs has already begun enacting language changes on its website and staff recruitment materials and has also created a new half-time position to support recruitment and retention of staff and increase diversity, equity and inclusion training.
  • A majority of staff in the Student Conduct and Sexual Misconduct Prevention & Response offices received training in facilitating restorative justice processes in summer 2020, and the training will continue to expand to other students, faculty, and staff.
  • Increasing reporting of incidents and outcomes, in line with federal privacy laws, through an annual report. The groundwork for publishing the first annual report is in process for summer 2021.

Student Affairs and the Office of General Counsel will also be developing curriculum for a mandatory training module for students to learn about the Student Code of Conduct and Penn State’s values at the beginning of their academic careers.

“Student Affairs has started the process of implementing these critical changes and will continue to build on the task force’s important work over the spring semester,” Shaha said. “The University is committed to fostering an environment where all students are heard and can thrive.”

The task force was convened in July 2020 to conduct a full review of the Student Code of Conduct, and the changes were the result of four main areas of focus, including determining how hateful acts and expressions might be addressed by the code within the bounds of the law; extending the reach of the code to off-campus behavior that may present a danger or threat to the physical and mental health of students or be detrimental to the educational interests or climate of the University or its students; incorporating voluntary restorative justice practices for code violations and acts of bias; and promoting greater accountability and transparency through tasks like reporting.

“Our charge was a challenging one but throughout the process the task force showed mutual respect and commitment, without ever losing focus on what brought us together in the first place,” said task force co-chair Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, founder and director of Penn State’s Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, and associate dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Penn State Law. “On the heels of George Floyd’s death and what transpired during protests across the country, the work of the task force was critical and critically timed. We spent a lot of time talking about how bias, hate, and racial harassment fit into the code. It was a complex navigation, but we landed with concrete recommendations that I am pleased to see incorporated.”

Task force co-chair Nyla Holland, a dual undergraduate and graduate student, and president of Penn State Black Caucus, added that student involvement is critical.

“The hateful acts that surfaced over the summer, unfortunately, did not surprise many members of Penn State’s marginalized communities. Students who voice concerns around inclusion deserve to be heard and taken seriously, so they can trust the University’s commitment,” Holland said. “Student involvement is necessary to improve our campus climate. When students understand the code and the importance of the values it emphasizes, it has the potential to increase the commitment needed to see crucial change toward a more inclusive, welcoming campus.”

The updated Code of Conduct is available on the Student Affairs website and a recording of the virtual town hall is available for viewing at https://LiveEvents.psu.edu/. The task force’s full report is posted to the Action Together website, and the University community is invited to submit comments and questions anonymously through an online form.

Last Updated January 22, 2021