University students now have the explicit right to legal representation and trial rights for proceedings to resolve conflicts with other students, under changes to the University’s Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities announced yesterday.

Gender identity was also added to the statement’s non-discrimination clause, said Keith Elkin, director of the Office of Student Conflict Resolution. Student leaders said that will guarantee protection to students who are not necessarily covered by the statement’s ban on sexual orientation-based discrimination.

The changes to the statement include language added to clarify that the advisor who can accompany students to conflict arbitration hearings may be an attorney, and that evidence presented during hearings must be “clear and convincing” for a student to be convicted of violating the statement.

“Clarifying language has been added to the Statement to ensure students understand that their advisor may be an attorney,” Elkin said in an e-mail sent to the student body yesterday. “The standard of proof – clear and convincing evidence – used during student conduct proceedings has been explicitly added to the statement.”

In the e-mail Elkin also said language was clarified to ensure that students understand the timeline for submitting an appeal to decisions made under the statement.

A provision was also added to prohibit students from sending e-mails using another person’s identity without authorized permission, Elkin said.

The revised statement can be found on OSCR’s website, Elkin was unavailable for comment yesterday evening.

Formerly called the Code of Student Conduct, the statement was criticized by some students and members of the Michigan Student Assembly for infringing on students’ legal rights and for regulating student behavior off University property.

Earlier this year, the MSA’s Students Rights Commission addressed these concerns by proposing seven amendments to guarantee the right of legal representation and a public arbitration hearing, protect gender identity and clarify language regarding student appeals.

Responding to yesterday’s changes, student leaders said they were a step in the right direction, but added that more could be done to guarantee student rights in conflict disputes.

“Overall, the improvements seem to be positive. … It seems that it’s going to open up and benefit more students,” said Jason Mironov, student general counsel of the MSA. “But the work is not done.”

Protecting gender identity under the statement is also a step in the right direction, but should be followed up by adding gender identity to the University’s anti-discrimination policy under the Regents’ Bylaws, said Jeff Souva, co-chair of the MSA’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Commission.

“To have an identity specifically listed and clarified means so much, because then you don’t have to run into ambiguity in the enforcement of such policies,” Souva said. “Gender identity is more than just being male or female. It’s more of whether people perceive you as being of one gender, or of a gender.”

Souva said many students, including himself, examine schools’ anti-discrimination policies when applying to college to see if gender identity is listed. But although many students have long advocated for gender identity to be listed under the Regents’ Bylaws, Souva said he is not certain the change will follow the statement’s modifications.

“I think it would be premature of me to be optimistic, only because I know how slow things are to change,” Souva said, adding that people fighting for the protection of gender identity have succeeded before.

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