Double secret probation, bias, and equity: a university conduct review

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Education, Health & Human Development


Bias issues in this country are real. Individuals are not treated equally and equitably because of their identities, their values, and their choices. This bias happens in places of employment, in the criminal justice system, in every day interactions and conversations. Bias is real, whether implicit or explicit, and too often compassion and equity seem to fall to the background when determining what is right and how we treat others or hold them accountable. Recent literature has found inequities in how k-12 students as well as the individuals in the criminal justice system are proportionally misrepresented by race and gender, with students of color suspended at a rate far greater than their white peers. Turning to higher education, media accounts suggest students who take part in university athletics or fraternities/sororities may receive preferential treatment. This could be because of monetary incentives from donors and alums of these organizations to the university or money that comes into the community and university because of athletic events. Therefore, the student conduct system at universities must also be investigated to determine if 'double secret probation' exists only on the movie screen or inequities in disciplinary consequences are indeed present. From a pragmatic perspective, the goal of this study was to understand the degree to which possible biases in higher education discipline systems exist and use that understanding to inform future practice. Through quantitative analyses, four years of discipline data from two public institutions were investigated to determine if students were suspended at a rate proportionate to the population by gender, race, affiliation with athletics or the fraternity/sorority system, as well as an overall violation 'score' based on their complete conduct history. Analysis showed that men and students of color were represented at higher rates in the suspension population than they were in the overall violation population. Controlling for all other predictor variables, gender, race, and a student's complete discipline record combined to create a violation 'score,' were all found to be statistically significant. There is still a lot of work to do in higher education, and specifically as a result of this study, in working with university conduct systems to realize and understand their implicit biases so that they and administrators may create and contribute to an environment in higher education where all students are treated equitably within the system.




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