New ombudsperson Sarah Klaper aims to cultivate self-advocacy on campus

Portrait of Sarah Klaper in front of a scenic park background.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Klaper

NU’s first ombudsperson Sarah Klaper encourages the University community to advocate for themselves.

Astry Rodriguez, Reporter

Northwestern’s first ombudsperson, Sarah Klaper, was recruited in August 2021 to provide assistance for academic or work-related issues. Now, she is working to ensure neutrality and confidentiality for all members of the NU community.

The ombudsperson is a neutral and confidential resource for the University community that helps people determine the right course of action for problem-solving and connects them with University resources. Klaper serves alumni and administrators in addition to students and faculty.

The ombudsperson also serves as a mediator to resolve serious conflicts — including with authority figures — or interpersonal relationship conflicts, like an argument between roommates. 

“(My goal is) to help people understand … where they sit in their different situations,” Klaper said. “In addition, helping people feel comfortable with conflict …  can be very productive and very helpful.”

Klaper previously served as the ombudsperson at Northern Illinois University. Before becoming an ombudsperson, she was a practicing attorney and taught law. But Klaper said she is a collaborative person and felt law was too adversarial. She said being an ombudsperson has allowed her to build relationships with people she serves and prevent community issues from escalating by being an empathetic and active listener.

For people who are unsure of how to submit formal complaints, the ombudsperson can be a helpful resource because they make referrals to all University offices.

Klaper can also offer a space for people to feel heard. She said she is happy to work with individuals who have personal concerns that are affecting their University lives.

“I help people lay out what all of their options are in handling their situation,” Klaper said. “We go from status quo: ‘What happens if you don’t do anything?’ to informal options, ‘Who do you need to talk to? What do you need to be addressing with that person?’”

Students or faculty can also consult the ombudsperson if they feel they have been underserved by a University regulation and want to modify or create a new policy. Klaper does not directly influence policies or provide legal advice. 

Provost Kathleen Hagerty is the ombudsperson’s immediate supervisor, and the ombudsperson’s budget runs through her office. Hagerty said Klaper has been a successful new addition to NU. 

“Since her arrival last summer, Sarah Klaper has quickly and effectively established the new Office of the Ombudsperson as an essential University resource for addressing concerns,” the Provost’s Office said in an email to The Daily. 

People can call, email or walk into the office, located on the second floor of 555 Clark St. Klaper said she usually sees people within a week of their requests.

Klaper said she does not supervise or report to any other University office, making her a confidential, unbiased resource. 

Assistant Provost for Faculty Celina Flowers said the ombudsperson can unburden students who worry about exposing their discontent with University policies or systemic issues, like hate crimes. 

“One of the really valuable things that an ombuds office can bring is a perspective across the institution to be able to (inform the University of) systemic issues or systemic challenges that might exist,” Flowers said. “So in that way to remove the burden (from the individual) of making some of those challenges known.”

Vice President and Associate Provost of Diversity and Inclusion Robin Coleman said the ombudsperson promotes diversity and equity. 

Diversity and inclusion are core values of NU, and the ombudsperson role was created, in part, to uphold those goals, according to the Office of Human Resources.

“I see the ombudsperson as diversity, equity and inclusion — that is their mission,” Coleman said. “The ombudsperson is an important part of our team to ensure that there is someone there who is cultivating that belonging.”

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Twitter: @Astry_tpwk 

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