The Daily Explains: Who is Northwestern’s ombudsperson?


Ziye Wang/The Daily Northwestern

Ombudsperson Sarah Klaper (right) and Office of the Ombudsperson Program Coordinator Carrie Thomas (left) stand outside the office at the beginning of the office’s Open House. Klaper is Northwestern’s first ombudsperson.

Ziye Wang, Reporter

After eight years of discussion, Northwestern welcomed Sarah Klaper, the University’s first ombudsperson, last fall to help students navigate difficult situations on campus.

Klaper and Carrie Thomas, program coordinator for the Office of the Ombudsperson, hosted an open house Oct. 13 to reintroduce the NU community to the role for the upcoming academic year. 

“My role is to listen, observe and to help people understand where they sit in a situation…and what their options are for how to resolve the conflict,” Klaper said. “I work with faculty, staff, students and alumni, and my role is to help.”

There are four main qualities to her office, she said: confidentiality, impartiality, informality and independence from the University. 

In Klaper’s previous role as ombudsperson at Northern Illinois University, she worked with students who dealt with issues including their family income level, financial aid and scholarships. 

For example, Klaper said she worked with a student that had a negative interaction with a faculty member, which the student felt was racially motivated. Klaper told the students about their rights in accessing information about the situation and connected them to administrators. She said she also facilitated “challenging” meetings that the student had with administrators and the police department. 

Klaper said students should know that while she is not working on behalf of NU administration, she is not necessarily a spokesperson for students either. Her neutrality and independence allow her to be helpful, she added.

Though Klaper cannot step in for a lawyer, she said she can be the next-best resource for students seeking expert advice  on complex and potentially legal issues.

Michelle Suran, senior business manager for NU’s Chemistry of Life Processes Institute, said the ombudsperson can serve as a trusted resource for community members.

“You can go to somebody in human resources, but they’re going to have the human resources perspective in terms of how they deal with it,” Suran, who attended the open house, said.  “It’s nice to know that there’s somebody that they can safely go to who can say, ‘I can’t fix your problem, but these are your options.’”

As an ombudsperson, Klaper also maintains confidentiality with anyone seeking her expertise. Essentially, Klaper said she acts as a “campus Google,” serving as a starting point for students who are struggling with complicated issues.

Though she only recently heard of the role of an ombudsperson, sophomore Sheila Onyango sees confidentiality as a crucial quality for any University support service. 

“A lot of times I go in wanting to assume that things will be confidential,” Onyango said of student resource offices. “I’ve never had to talk to (University Police), but I talk to (Counseling and Psychological Services) and the financial aid office, and all those things have to do with identity, experience, health — and that’s my business.”

Independence from the University is a powerful quality of the ombudsperson, according to Onyango. For her, student organizations are one of the only other places students feel secure enough to speak openly about the University as an institution.

For her, Klaper said the role is about more than just the four qualities of the ombudsperson.

“This office is really about knowledge, conflict resolution and empowering people to resolve situations,” Klaper said, “to know what’s available, what’s involved in a situation, so that they can make the best decisions for themselves moving forward.”

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Twitter: @ZiyeWang26 

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