Community Standards makes a fresh start

Mark DiPerna, director of the Office of Community Standards, is committed to taking a compassionate and educational approach to upholding Stanford’s Honor Code and Fundamental Standard.

The Office of Community Standards (OCS), which adjudicates violations of Stanford’s Honor Code and Fundamental Standard, has been revamped under the leadership of Director Mark DiPerna.

Supported by new staff members, DiPerna is leading the office in taking a fresh look at how to ensure that the Stanford student community lives up to its own high expectations. The Honor Code was written by students in 1921 and the Fundamental Standard has set the standard for conduct since 1896.

Mark DiPerna recently completed his first year as Director of the Office of Community Standards. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

The new staff includes Assistant Dean and Associate Director Tiffany Gabrielson (formerly of Stanford Graduate School of Business), Assistant Deans Alyce Haley (formerly of George Washington University) and Terrence Shaw (formerly of the University of Notre Dame), and administrative associate Kathleen Jump (a former teacher at a Montessori school in New York).

DiPerna joined OCS in January 2018. He practiced law at a firm in San Francisco before spending two years in Stanford’s Office of the General Counsel. When he came into his current role, he brought a perspective that combines an understanding of the Stanford student experience with compassion for the circumstances that might lead a student to make an unfortunate decision.

High-performance culture

"When you’re under pressure, you might do things that aren’t aligned with your own moral compass," DiPerna said. "An unfortunate part of a high-performance culture can be the feeling that perfection is required and failure is unacceptable."

DiPerna said that OCS wants to be supportive of students’ success, which is why it partnered with iThrive at Stanford, the health outreach and education wing of Vaden Health Center.

iThrive helps students learn and practice the skills that increase their capacity to manage challenging situations and accomplish meaningful goals with compassion, courage and resilience. In addition to helping promote mental health and self-care initiatives, DiPerna and his staff worked with iThrive to give students tips on how to avoid running afoul of the Honor Code.

Growing from mistakes

DiPerna’s approach is largely influenced by his own experience coming from a diverse family. His mother’s family picked cotton as migrant workers, which caused her to frequently miss school.

"She persevered and eventually excelled in high school," DiPerna said. "But her parents had no education. They really only spoke Spanish, and my grandfather was actually illiterate. They had very few resources, and she felt discouraged by her school administrators from even applying to college."

His father grew up in a working-class neighborhood and joined the Air Force during the Vietnam War. Later, he attended night school and earned a degree. Together, his parents taught their family about gratitude, working hard and the value of education.

"People might look at me as a lawyer, and now a director of this office, and make assumptions about who I am and where I came from," he said. "It’s important for me to not make assumptions, but to understand that our students come to the office with a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences."

DiPerna also credits his experience running into trouble as a young man with shaping both his interest in the law and the way he approaches his current work.

"The younger me probably would have had a problem with the Fundamental Standard, and I probably would have let everyone know about it," he joked. "In hindsight, I know I struggled a lot with feelings that I didn’t belong or that I wasn’t good enough, and I think the path I was starting to head down was definitely related to those feelings."

DiPerna said he was fortunate to have mentors who encouraged him to believe in himself, which affects how he relates to students today.

"The best part of my job is when I can help a student who is upset about a bad choice they have made by saying from experience, ’This is not the end of the world. You can learn and grow from this,’" he said.

Looking anew at policies

Having an entirely new staff has allowed OCS to look at its policies with fresh eyes. DiPerna said his staff is constantly working with the Board on Judicial Affairs (BJA) to review the Judicial Charter, which governs the OCS process. The office is currently conducting a peer review with the BJA to critically examine sanctions to ensure that they are fully in line with OCS values and the values of the Stanford community.

DiPerna acknowledges that some students referred to OCS might view the office as only punitive in nature. But he hopes to gain their trust by ensuring that they understand their rights and the educational focus of the process and by emphasizing the role played by the larger Stanford community.

"At the end of the day, the entire process is really a community effort," DiPerna said. "It relies on a reporting party to bring forward a concern, and if a charge is filed by our office, then it relies on students, faculty and staff to determine the outcome."

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