Being a Student Defender can be one of the most difficult, yet rewarding responsibilities you have in college. Student Defenders are faced with working on dozens of sensitive and sometimes life-altering cases while juggling classes, work, and other commitments. While the work of a Student Defender presents many challenges, it offers a powerful opportunity to have a positive impact on another person’s life, educate others about their rights, and improve your campus community.
Here are some qualities that effective Student Defenders possess:
A passion for fairness.
Passion for fairness and due process is the driving factor of a successful Student Defender. Whether you are defending the rights of a student, lobbying for an improved school policy, or providing resources for other students, your knowledge and interest in due process and in seeing decisions made justly should be at the forefront of your mission.
A high standard of professionalism.
Students for whom you are advocating may have some reservations about having a peer advise them through the conduct process. That’s why it is important to maintain a professional manner when dealing with the students involved in the process. From the way you dress to the way you conduct meetings, you want students to know that you will put your best foot forward on their behalf. It is also important for administrators in the conduct office to know that you are taking the process, and your role, seriously.
A willingness to learn.
When you begin as a Student Defender, there will be plenty of aspects of the process with which you are unfamiliar. You must be willing to learn everything about your school’s policies, the conduct process, and how to best advise students. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!
The ability to be creative and improvise.
No matter how many cases you have worked on, each one will provide a new challenge or unique bumps in the road. You will need to think creatively and solve problems on the fly. Whether it is going to the school paper to expose unjust actions, helping students find new witnesses, or encouraging students to collect swipes from campus facilities to back up their story, you’ll need to make sure you are using every resource possible to make sure the students you helping are getting their best chance at a fair process.
A desire to help others.
The most satisfying part about being a Student Defender is knowing that you had a positive impact on a fellow student’s life. Students are coming to you during what may be one of the most difficult and stressful experiences in their college career, and they are looking to you for guidance and knowledge. Being there to ensure their rights are honored and the process is fair is the most rewarding part of the whole experience.
If these are skills you feel you or someone you know has, let us know! We would love to talk to you about starting a Student Defenders group on your campus. To learn more, check out StudentDefenders.org or email us at StudentDefenders@thefire.org.