What is an Honor Advocate at Washington & Lee?

Facing Sexual Violence in Rockbridge County, Virginia, Sexual Violence

My name is Joshua Gross and I am currently a junior here at W&L. I am also the Undergraduate Assistant Head Honor Advocate and have been presented with the opportunity to share a little bit about the Honor Advocate program and what the job entails here.

Honor Advocates work with each of the three student conduct bodies that govern our community. The most well known body is, of course, the Executive Committee (EC) which holds hearings when a student has been accused of an Honor Violation. The Student Judicial Council (SJC) hears a variety of cases such as alcohol-related offenses, physical altercations, vandalism or several other possible charges. The last hearing body is the Student Faculty Hearing Board (SFHB) which hears cases related to discrimination, harassment, hazing by individuals, racism, or sexual misconduct.

For EC or SJC cases, an Honor Advocate will help an accused student understand and proceed through the respective hearing process. This typically involves thoroughly reviewing the investigation report and/or evidence with the accused student and then developing questions for the student or any relevant witnesses in order to clearly convey his or her side of the story. This is largely the same for the SFHB with one major exception: a Honor Advocate can work with either the respondent (accused student) or the complainant who is bringing the allegation forward.

In addition to these conduct bodies, an Honor Advocate can also help a student, when necessary, through the appellate process which is overseen by the University Board of Appeals (UBA). And while rare, should an accused student be found guilty of an Honor Violation in a closed hearing and choose to appeal the decision in an open hearing, the assigned Honor Advocates will continue to work with the student.

There doesn’t seem to be much awareness of the Honor Advocate program on campus and that makes sense because the nature of the work demands confidentiality. However, it is my hope this post will encourage students to consider applying to the program next year. An Honor Advocate can be an undergraduate or law student and an applicant only needs to complete an application, submit a resume and participate in an interview to be considered for the job.

An ideal candidate would be prepared to work with students in incredibly difficult and challenging circumstances (sometimes, accused students are facing the prospect of expulsion) and must be prepared to patiently assist students through different processes that can feel overwhelming. Additionally, being an Honor Advocate is a serious time commitment as some cases can require forty or more hours of work in a single week and cases often arise right in the thick of exams or busy social times like Homecoming or Parents Weekend. Honor Advocates must also keep their work confidential and can’t let their friends know why they’ve disappeared for an extended period of time other than saying they’re working on a confidential matter. And especially with regard to SFHB cases which often deal with sexual misconduct, an Honor Advocate must be comfortable in dealing with extremely sensitive and personal matters.

Yet, it is also a very rewarding experience that can prepare both law and undergraduate students alike for a variety of careers and it is a meaningful way for students to involve themselves within the community. The aims of the program are also noble: providing a strong source of support to students and to act as an oversight to make sure students are treated fairly and to guarantee that processes are being followed properly.

If you are interested in being an Honor Advocate, watch out for application notices next September or feel free to contact me at grossj16@mail.wlu.edu.

This post originally appeared in Facing Sexual Violence in Rockbridge County, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.

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