In this episode of Real Talk, KJK Student Defense Attorneys Susan Stone and Kristina Supler are joined by Hanna Stotland, an independent educational consultant specializing in crisis management. They discuss how students with academic or disciplinary violations can have a chance to achieve their higher education dreams. The conversation includes updates to the college application process, under what circumstances students must disclose their disciplinary history and an effective strategy to help overcome these obstacles and show that these students will be great members of the academic community.
Links Mentioned In the Show:
- How Hanna leads students and families in crisis back onto a higher educational path (01:21)
- Why disciplinary history is now a thing of the past for some colleges/ universities (03:01)
- Don’t ask, don’t tell? Should a student still disclose their disciplinary history even if it isn’t required? (04:57)
- Why it’s more advantageous to be honest about your previous sanctions (06:26)
- What most clients don’t want to hear (07:56)
- Keep it clean, if you don’t want this coming back to haunt you (09:09)
- Is disclosure of disciplinary action required when transferring schools? (11:06)
- What are the limitations of the FERPA waiver? (11:47)
- The kind of record a student should ALWAYS disclose (12:59)
- It’s not the crime, it’s the coverup. (14:41)
- Why your honesty about your past, when asked, is what matters above all else (15:42)
- How even students with grave accusations can become entrusted to be a great academic member of a college (16:50)
- Why suspension and/or expulsion is not the end of the world (17:37)
Susan Stone: Welcome back to Real Talk with Susan Stone and Kristina Supler. We’re full-time moms and attorneys bringing our student defense legal practice to life with real life candid conversations.
Today, we are super excited to invite our friend, Hannah Stotland as our guest. Hannah has a great story. She is proud to tell you that she flunked out of high school and ended up graduating from Harvard college in undergrad, and then Harvard law. Today, she’s an independent educational consultant that specializes in crisis management.
And she works with families to get their students in either undergraduate colleges or universities or graduate schools after the blank hits the fan. And we, Christine and I work with Hannah a lot on cases.
Kristina Supler: Hannah. Thank you so much for joining us today.
We’re thrilled to have you Susan’s just told us a bit about your life experience and your history that brought you to what you do now, which is so interesting. Expand on that a little. Tell us more about yourself and what services you provide to families in crisis.
Hannah Stotland: Thanks so much for having me. I’m really glad to be here.
The biggest things that I do for families in crisis is help them see that there is a higher education future for them and help them achieve it. And so that involves both figuring out what steps they need to take to get into or back into the educational path that they were on, as well as helping the student to talk about whatever happened.
And so that’s usually where a lot of our emphasis is when I’m working together with a student, understanding how I can teach them. What I did during my legal career, it is perfectly ethical and normal for lawyers to speak for their clients. That is a it’s a core function of a lawyer to speak on the client’s behalf. In the higher ed space that is typically not ethical and not appropriate.
So if the student is addressing an admissions office that the student is supposed to speak for themselves. And so what I do is become an educator and a coach and teach them how to advocate for themselves more effectively.
Susan Stone: Thank you for that description. A lot of people don’t know about this, but Kristina and I work with a lot of high school students who find themselves in a situation where there’s a suspension or an expulsion.
Now we learned that the common application which use to require students to talk about those prior disciplinary records has changed.
Are we right that the common app no longer asked students to report suspensions and expulsions?
Hannah Stotland: So the common app no longer has that question as a default. Individual universities and there are, I think between seven and 900 that are available on the common app. Those individual universities can still choose to include any version of a discipline question onto their required supplements.
So it’s very common. If you’re applying to Whoville college, you have the common app portion of the application, and then Whoville college might also have a section you need to fill out, tell us what attracts you to Whoville. And that portion can include anything that the college wishes.
And so the non-default questions such as the criminal history question, which has gone to non-default status for several years now, and the disciplinary question, which is joining that club the non-required question club. Individual schools can still ask that question and still require it for applicants to their institution.
And so you should expect, and I certainly expect for the most competitive tier of colleges to consistently ask and less competitive colleges may be all over the map. So it’s going to depend on where you apply, whether you are asked about disciplinary history.
Kristina Supler: So we’re often presented with a question from inquiring students or even parents.
I had this little sticky situation my freshman year. But the school told me it was no big deal. And there’s not really a record of it. But I don’t know. Should I share that information disciplinary history with the college? There’s not a specific question that asks for it. Generally speaking, what do you advise?
Students and parents in terms of disclosure about prior disciplinary history, no matter how minor.
Hannah Stotland: That’s a great question. Cause we get that a lot. So you don’t have to answer questions, not asked. Any question that’s asked you have to answer truthfully. That being said, I have quite a number of, in a growing number of students where I think it is in their interest to talk about the disciplinary history, even if they are not asked. And there’s two situations where that’s particularly true. One is on your transcript. I don’t want that to stand by itself. It’s to your advantage to provide context and if you will, your side of the story to any college, that’s going to see that.
Even if they don’t have a question, what is your disciplinary history? The second and a growing area is if there is a risk or a significant risk of third party disclosure. So that has been, what’s been keeping me busy all through the pandemic is. A lot of times my students were told by their high school, you don’t need to disclose this, or perhaps they were never disciplined, but other people in the class are aware of some wrongdoing on the students’ part.
And those third parties are emailing or even tweeting at the colleges saying, did you know that your admitted student sent me this IM three years ago?
Susan Stone: Or they post it on their social media and then they send that posting to the college. We’ve seen that.
Hannah Stotland: Correct. So they may either publicly or privately, but notify a college or a group of colleges about this wrongdoing or alleged wrongdoing in my student’s past. You may fall to the carpet for that. Even if the school didn’t require you to disclose it, that doesn’t mean. They are bound to ignore it. So a classic example would be if you use the racist language in a Snapchat to a small group of friends at some point in the past. No college that I’m aware of asks, have you ever said anything offensive in an IM before?
If it is brought to their attention? They may well decide to rescind your acceptance over it. So you need to think about if there’s a real risk that that’s going to happen. Evaluate the strategic option of disclosing it yourself upfront apologizing and putting it in context in order to minimize the harm that’s going to result if that third party disclosure takes place.
Kristina Supler: Hannah, I imagine that parents probably frankly, cringe when hearing that, what you’ve just shared and probably push back and say, well, but wait a minute. If I disclose what Susie or Johnny said on Twitter or this disciplinary issue that no one even really knows about, it’s going to automatically make Susie or Johnny a less desirable candidates.
How do you respond to that?
Hannah Stotland: Well, you are constrained by the options that you have, right? The best situation would be for your student. Never to have said something like this. That would be great. But we don’t live in that world. Right now you have a choice between two options that you wouldn’t pick out if you could. You have the choice of disclosing it yourself, or you have the choice where you run the risk of them, hearing it from someone else. Now, if you think that risk is small, maybe you say I’m gonna live a little closer to the edge, right? This is a risk preference question.
There isn’t any answer about what strategy is best for all students. But if you have a student, for example well, here’s an example. If this third party is already publicizing the information all over your community, You should assume that that’s going to get to the college. And so given this tough situation that you don’t want to, and it might be better to bring it up yourself where you can at least get some brownie points for honesty.
Susan Stone: I’ve been wondering, do college admissions teams, when they’re evaluating an applicant, look up social media about a candidate.
Hannah Stotland: They don’t do that routinely, but may do it. And I always recommend at every student should look at their social media and their whole history of social media with the assumption that colleges are going to examine it all the way back.
They may not. But if they get a tip, right, if someone tweets at them or emails them and says, Hey, you want to check out this post from Susie’s background. You should assume that they will. And so keeping it clean is a smart move.
Susan Stone: Yeah. Kristina why don’t you share with Hannah? Because we’ve seen this problem of Internet posting so much what we had to do with our practice to deal with this problem.
Kristina Supler: Yeah. So it’s interesting you bring that up Hannah, that is school isn’t necessarily automatically going to look at social media. But if something gets on their radar or something is reported, they may. And it’s for that exact reason that our law practice has evolved considerably into different areas. And we’ve actually developed a non-traditional aspect of our law practice that is essentially reputation and crisis management dealing with online content removal, social media challenges. How to handle, one’s reputation moving forward, whether it’s with respect to applying, to undergraduate or graduate universities, or perhaps even more broadly speaking job opportunities in the future.
So this aspect of what you’re talking about, it’s, so it’s so significant and it’s become such an ingrained part of modern life and what students are facing. Something that I’m thinking about because we’ve spoken a lot about students applying to undergrad and grad school, but what about students going through a transfer?
Do those students still fill out a common app? What are disclosure obligations there generally speaking with respect to disciplinary history.
Hannah Stotland: So the, those transfer applications resemble freshmen applications in many ways. Just like, for freshmen candidates, some universities use the common application and some do not.
And just like with freshmen applications some we’ll choose to include a disciplinary question and some will not. And your obligation of Answering all the questions that are asked truthfully are the same as our your strategic choices. Very similarly you may feel that it’s in your interest to disclose and or discuss something that’s on your record or something in your past, even if you aren’t required to.
Susan Stone: Hannah, I’ve always been under the impression though that transfer or. And transfer e colleges do communicate. So if there is a serious disciplinary record, like for a title nine. It’s going to be disclosed by one institution to another. Is that your understanding?
Hannah Stotland: So high schools and colleges are treated the same by the law.
And in all of those cases universities and high schools can only share those details of your record with other institutions that you give them written permission to do. So, if you’re doing a FIRPA waiver, a waiver of your right to privacy and your educational records as per that application to that institution. It is not a blanket waiver.
They can’t go talk to the press about your title nine case because you signed a FERPA waiver to allow you to apply to Whoville state university.
Susan Stone: But as a practical matter, when you want to transfer don’t, you have to execute the FIRPA waiver and everything gets transferred on part of the process?
Hannah Stotland: As a practical matter, whatever the target college, the place, you’re applying as a practical matter, whatever they ask for you should give, or you should assume that you won’t be further considered by that college. But not every college is going to talk about everything. Now, if you have a suspension or expulsion for title IX, it is very likely that that’s going to end up on your transcript or in what’s called a a statement of standing. Where the target institution wants a form from your previous institution where they say he’s in good standing here, he’s eligible return, or he isn’t. And very frequently that’s going to come up. But there isn’t any universal pattern there, there are schools that are not very selective and schools that are not terribly on the ball.
Now, I can’t think of the situation where I’m advising a student who has a title IX record, not to disclose that. Because you don’t want it coming up later. And one thing we know about title nine is whoever is accusing you is very mad at you. And you should assume that that person is going to want to make sure that other institutions know about that history.
So I can’t think of a time when I would advise a student be silent about your title nine record. But that’s not always because the institutions can just talk to each other and they’re necessarily going to share all of this.
Susan Stone: What about these wrongful collaboration, cheating cases?
We’ve seen a rise in that. Is that something that’s really going to impair a student has to be disclosed plagiarism or wrongful collaboration. I’m just curious.
Hannah Stotland: On the question is, were at least the language of the common app, and this is very common language is, have you been found responsible for an academic or disciplinary violation?
If you have, and you are asked that question, you must say yes. Otherwise you’re lying on your application and that lie on the application is likely to be a much, much more serious impediment to your future career, then the underlining lying offense. Right? So we people said about Richard Nixon, it’s not the crime, it’s the coverup. And question.
Susan Stone: Cause we opened with you don’t have to report suspension.
Hannah Stotland: Whoa. Wait, we opened with what?
Susan Stone: We talked about, how now the common app no longer asks about suspensions,
Hannah Stotland: it doesn’t as a default, many schools will still ask. If asked, you must say yes. I thought we were talking about the situation where you are asked.
Susan Stone: Okay. So what about um, just in particular cheating cases.
Hannah Stotland: The nature of the offense has nothing to do with your obligation to disclose. It might have to do with whether you’re strategically disclosing when you are not asked. But whether it’s ax murderer, or asking for help on a test, doesn’t change your ethical obligation to disclose if asked.
It may influence whether you want to disclose when you are not asked.
Kristina Supler: So it sounds like Hannah, the bottom line is students should be truthful. Because as you said, not being truthful is worse perhaps than the underlying conduct, the ick factor in question. And in those situations, when a student’s struggling with something to disclose, and then how do I explain this to the school?
That’s where a student could contact you. And this is a service that you offer help with shaping a narrative, writing an essay to explain what happened, right. Is that an essence, something that you can help these students do?
Hannah Stotland: Yes, that’s what I do. And I think there’s often too much emphasis on what am I being asked?
How can I find a school that doesn’t ask? And not enough emphasis on how can I put this in context and explain it away? Or explain it in a way that makes them think, well, this student has learned their lesson. I can be confident that they’re going to be a great member of our academic community and I trust them.
And that is achievable. And that is often achievable even when the accusation is very serious. I I’ve yet to work with a suspended or expelled student who was ready to continue their education. And I have to give a disclaimer here for those who are in the throws of an addiction or a criminal matter investigation into them.
But those who the entire problem is a suspension or expulsion. And they have learned from that and are ready to move forward. Those students can find educational opportunities and appropriate ones. And people should not be worried. Well, this is the end of everything. He can never even get a bachelor’s degree.
Nevermind become a lawyer. His education is over. That’s never true, right? The only time I’ve ever said to a family I don’t believe we can move forward with this at this time is where the student was in prison. Short of going to prison. These are treatable conditions and we can help students find a new educational path that works for them.
Kristina Supler: Well, thank you so much for joining us today, Hannah. This was really excellent thoughts that you’ve shared and food for thought as a whole, for everyone going through the process of finding a new institution. We really appreciate your time today. For families, looking for an independent educational consultant, particularly specializing in crisis management Hannah Stotland is the best of the best.
Thank you everyone for listening to real talk with Susan and Christina. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it. And don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast. And for more resources, of course, you can visit us online at studentdefensethatkjk.com.
Susan Stone: Thank you.