Some time ago, I wrote a post to describe discussions with student leaders about difficulties that their constituents face in their day-to-day lives as students at Georgetown. The university has seen great success in supporting an ombuds for faculty on the main campus. It seemed an idea worth emulating for students.
Starting on Monday, April 12, Georgetown will have a ombuds person servicing the needs of both undergraduate and graduate students on the main campus. Dr. Daniela Brancaforte will be the first full-time Main Campus student ombuds person. Dr. Brancaforte has a PhD in Anthropology from Princeton University. Prior to becoming the ombuds for Georgetown Main Campus students she was Senior Assistant Dean and Director of Strategic Initiatives & Interdisciplinary Programs, as well as being an Adjunct Professor at the McDonough School of Business.
What Does the Ombuds Do?
Students, especially those encountering parts of the university for the first time, sometimes experience interactions that are unpleasant. They are uncertain about whether they failed to understand operating procedures of a unit or whether personnel behaved inappropriately toward them or their requests of the unit. Sometimes another student behaves in a manner that seems unjust or inappropriate. Sometimes a student doesn’t know how to obtain the services or guidance they seek. Sometimes bad things happen to students but they need help processing the event.
The Ombuds provides a safe and confidential space for students to talk about their concerns, share their experiences, and ask questions. The Ombuds will help students problem-solve, identify their goals, and empower them to think through ways to navigate complex situations. These might involve academic issues, administrative policies and procedures, interpersonal conflicts, or student employment disputes.
The Ombuds is not just a friendly ear to hear student concerns. They receive training from the International Ombudsman Association to help prepare them for their role.
Conversations with the Ombuds are confidential. The code of ethics that guides their work does not permit them to share information without the explicit permission of those involved. The only exceptions involve court orders or a situation in which an individual faces imminent harm.
The Ombuds role is independent of the faculty and of the administration. While the role is part of the Provost Office organizationally, no one else in the office can know about individual cases. The Ombuds can meet in places offering full confidentiality to the students.
The Ombuds is not necessarily an advocate for the student; instead the Ombuds listens to the issues raised from a neutral perspective. The ombuds helps a student think through the issues they face. This is especially useful when the student needs help in navigating the various alternative ways forward with an issue they face.
The Ombuds interaction with students is an informal one. The conversations do not automatically start of chain of activities that yield formal complaints and prespecified procedures. Successful Ombuds often help the student resolve an issue without having to start more formal grievance procedures.
The Ombuds role is distinct from those of other student services, like the Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Affirmative Action (IDEAA) office, the Bias Reporting System, the Honor Council, the Academic Resource Center, the Student Conduct process, the Office of Student Financial Services, the Office of Residential Living, or the Academic Deans’ offices. All of these serve students in various ways. One role an effective Ombuds can play is to advise students whether their concerns can be better addressed by one or more of these other offices. In that sense, the Ombuds at Georgetown is a new part of an eco-system of student services, but one having a distinct role.
We are proud to welcome Dr. Brancaforte as the new Ombuds for students. We are confident that she will be of great assistance in helping Georgetown students thrive in the university.