Pomona College’s Judicial Board releases cumulative case history file in transparency effort

An open folder titled "JBOARD" with files inside
Previously, Judicial Board files were available to students in a physical binder maintained by JBoard adviser M. Ricardo Townes. (Jenny Park • The Student Life)

Pomona College’s Judicial Board, more commonly known as JBoard, released two years’ worth of redacted case write-ups in an email to students Feb. 24. 

Article II of Pomona’s student code states that the college is required to maintain a “public, permanent precedent file, which consists of case abstracts specifying charges, facts, case dispositions and rationales for dispositions.” However, this file has not existed or been available for hearings for at least the last decade, the email said. 

The newly released file is only accessible to students with a Pomona email address. The file contains summaries of cases on various types of misconduct, from stealing and vandalism to assault and drug dealing.

JBoard is a student-run and student-led disciplinary system that holds hearings and provides sanctions for violations of the student code. JBoard has four chairs and around 40 panelists each year. The chairs also work with the Student Affairs Committee to pass student code amendments.

Ricardo Townes, associate dean of student mentoring and leadership, JBoard’s adviser since 2004, told TSL he used to have a physical binder of past cases mainly viewed by students going through the judiciary process.

“To be perfectly candid, somewhere a number of years ago, we were moving away from that physical [file] to a more electronic version of said [file]. Things fell through the cracks and it wasn’t tight, it wasn’t as easy for someone to access that,” Townes said. “I appreciate the work that this current set of chairs and also previous generations of chairs have put into making it more accessible.”

The process of creating the file and updating the student code has taken JBoard more than a year. Former JBoard chair Isaac Cui PO ’20 spearheaded the project starting fall 2019. 

SAC approved JBoard’s proposed changes to this code after the final comment period which ended Feb. 22. The amendment renames the precedent file to the “case history file,” a change meant to emphasize that case information is in “no way” meant to determine future sanctions, but rather meant to maintain institutional memory “within which to contextualize ongoing and evolving Judicial Council practices,” Dean of Campus Life Josh Eisenberg said in a Jan. 20 email to students.

“We feel like JBoard isn’t always the most well-understood organization on campus and that it would really benefit everyone to have a sense of what exactly the Judicial Council and the judicial processes at Pomona look like,” JBoard chair Daisy Ni PO ’21 said. 

Townes agreed.

“I firmly believe that students need to have as much information as possible about the whole JBoard process,” he said. “Getting [the file] updated and the work that the chairs and panelists have put into doing this has been pretty consequential to help dispel the myths of what JBoard is and what it does.”

Panelist Raye Gleekel PO ’21 said she was eager to help create the file. She hopes a wide array of students read through the file and that it may interest some in joining JBoard. 

“I would hope that students would be able to see that the point of [JBoard] is educational and I think that is reflected in the decisions and the judicial board’s process,” she said. “So in having that case file be available to students, I think it just gives them a wider scope of how the judicial board actually carries out their mission statement which is an education process.”

Ni added that the file will also help students who are dealing with JBoard hearings have a better idea of previous sanctions and outcomes. 

“I think for respondents who are going through the process we thought that having this case history file where people could look at previous decisions will give them a good sense of what to expect,” she said. “So just for accessibility purposes, I think the hope is that they don’t feel like it’s going to be like a really stringent or really unfamiliar process.”

JBoard determined it will immediately release heavily redacted versions of case opinions and then replace them with a less redacted version after five years, according to the email.

The first release redacts any identifying information, including places and times, while the second release will only redact names and pronouns. Respondents — the defendants in JBoard cases — had the option to ask for further redactions or petition to opt out of the immediate release, but none did so, according to associate chair Haley Parsley PO ’21.

The five-year replacement is designed to release more information after respondents have already graduated “with the idea that more information is more helpful for students,” Parsley said.

The chairs worked with a group of panelists to review the redaction process and held a public forum in October 2019 to get feedback from students. 

Gleekel said that JBoard prioritized making the file a relevant resource for students while also maintaining the privacy of those involved with cases. 

“[The redaction process] is the product of a bunch of students collaborating and deciding how best can we balance a need for confidentiality with our imperative to make this file public for the school,” Parsley said. 

Panelist Glen Skahill PO ’22, who was part of the committee working on the file, praised JBoard chairs for their creation of the file and the role it will play in helping students. 

“The one thing I will continually say about JBoard is [Pomona] students, we are super lucky to have [the] administration trust us in this manner that is almost unparalleled across undergraduate colleges in the entire rest of the country,” he said. 

With no students on campus, JBoard has had more time this year to work on projects and code amendments. Parsley is spearheading a mediation program that will offer an alternative to JBoard hearings for interpersonal conflicts between students. JBoard is also working on an institutional memory project that includes interviewing past chairs. 

The chairs have also been working on a statement of values and a critical race reading group which are meant to approach racial injustice and its relationship with judicial systems, Parsley said. 

“If students could see what I’ve seen over the last 17 years doing this, the work other students put in to make sure students get clear procedures and have a fair process, I think they would feel pretty good about what JBoard is and how unique the [Pomona] version of conduct is,” Townes said.

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