Beyond framing and overseeing the conduct process, new Associate Dean of Students Richard DeCapua believes there is a second fold to his position-one centered on education and conversations.
“I’m responsible for how the community standards are written, formulated, and administered in terms of the conduct process,” DeCapua said. “My own personal philosophy is that there is a whole other half of that job description that is about education and preemptively giving students the tools to make good decisions. Anything we can do to keep students out of the conduct process by making good decisions is what I’m looking for.”
DeCapua brings years of experience in higher education administration to his new role, which he assumed in early November. His career in residential life began at Boston College when he served as a Resident Director on College Road after graduate school, and continued at Brandeis and Suffolk universities, where he was director of residential life and associate dean of students, respectively. Returning to BC, DeCapua said, was an opportunity he readily accepted.
“The more you move up in higher education, the fewer jobs there are, and when they become available at a place like BC and at this level, you have to jump at it,” he said.
In approaching his position, DeCapua emphasized that he seeks to facilitate productive conversations between students and administrators and work with other departments within the University to give students the support they need.
“My hope for being here, like I’ve done at other places, is that conduct is really a way to work with students individually and sometimes filter them to other places on campus where they can get better support,” DeCapua said.
One way in which DeCapua and other administrators are examining how students think and act is joining forces through the Committee on Civility and Campus Culture. Representatives from the Dean of Students’ Office (DOS), Residential Life, Student Programs Office (SPO), Office of First Year Experience (FYE), Center for Student Formation, and Intersections program, among other offices, look at prevailing attitudes on campus about the societal implications and expectations of being a BC student.
“We’re really exploring, from an institutional perspective, what do students-from the pipeline in to graduation-hear or feel about our community, what is accepted and what isn’t,” DeCapua said. “Since I’ve been here, I’m been calling meetings with campus partners to say, ‘This is what I think we do … and does this work?’ to try to figure out the best avenue for students.”
Beyond the core group of offices involved with the committee, DeCapua said his office has close ties with BCPD, University Counseling Services, and the Alcohol and Drug Education Program.
Considering the broader relationship between the University and its students, DeCapua hopes to see it regarded less bureaucratically and believes there is ample opportunity for constructive conversations to be occurring.
“I think reimaging how conduct looks and how it’s felt and interpreted will help with that relationship,” he said.
DeCapua said that, in terms of the student conduct process itself, seeds have been planted in the development of and transition to a new process to succeed the previous drug and alcohol matrix, particularly through in-roads with the mutual resolution process. This process puts more emphasis on the discretion of residential life staff in specific circumstances. For first-time, low-level offenses in scenarios that are common on college campuses, DeCapua said the first step in the process can be a conversation with a trained peer, residential life staff member, or member of the DOS staff.
“The less adversarial that conversation can be, the better off we are,” he said.
Through these educational conversations students can understand the implications of their actions and, ideally, not find themselves in the conduct process again. A majority of students who go through the process, DeCapua said, never go through it again because they either “change their action or get smarter about it.” He also noted that having conversations while offenses are still relatively low-level will help prevent any further offenses from becoming more serious.
“The higher the level of conduct, the less likely you are to have those types of educational in-roads,” DeCapua said.
This approach to administering community standards focuses on making it so that students do not perceive that reporting a potentially dangerous situation will cause a conduct issue and subsequently refrain from doing so.
“The biggest struggle for BC in my limited view here is that we have a community of extremely well-intentioned people all doing well-intentioned things that aren’t connected,” DeCapua said.
“We don’t live in a vacuum, we know what’s going on out there,” he said. “More than anything, I don’t want anybody thinking the conduct at the meetings is about finger-wagging, ‘shame on you,’ ‘you should have known better.’ It’s more about, ‘we all know what is going on, but what were you doing? Bring me through your [thought] process when you thought this was going to end well.'”
In the transition away from the matrix, DeCapua said the goal should be finding a middle ground between a strict, prescriptive system and completely arbitrary sanctioning. There should be a balance, he said, wherein students can be given a wide range of potential outcomes that can be narrowed down based on the situation, their offense, and how they interacted with staff.
“Students have been so against the matrix, they don’t want a matrix, but then you meet with them and they want to know exactly what’s going to happen,” DeCapua said.
He also pointed out that students frequently say they want to know more about the conduct process, and that information detailing the process is easily available for students.
“The nature of what we do is that you don’t read it until you get in trouble,” DeCapua said. “You’re going to become a lawyer on the conduct process once something happens.”