Honor on the larger scale
The Honor Committee must reform to include the voice of international students
I am an international student at the University of Virginia who chose to pursue my undergraduate education here, from a 20-hour plane ride away on the other side of the world. I am part of a group that accounts for 5 percent of the entire student population.
While I cannot be entirely qualified to represent all of the international students with my words, I would like to share with everyone how I feel with the recently proposed honor reforms. Take this as you will; I am not going to urge you to vote in a particular direction. Such an attempt has no point anyway: I am only part of 5 percent of this community and a democratic vote in the majority’s favor can effortlessly triumph over contrary opinions. All I seek is well-reasoned thought about this issue, and I would like to help by contributing to a more balanced perspective about these reforms.
It may be true that informed retraction removes incentives for students to lie through the honor process if they are accused of an offense. After all, a year away from the University sounds way better than getting expelled. This may be a good idea, if this option were actually open as a legitimate and viable choice to all students from all backgrounds at this University. Sadly, the reality is that this is far from a viable option that international students (or students on financial aid, or athletes on scholarships for that matter) can take. Our student visas are contingent on us retaining full-time student status all throughout our undergraduate careers; any awkwardly unexplained leave of absence would compromise our legal status in the United States. In other words, there is no informed retraction for the international student — there is only exclusion from the University community.
I talked to a candidate running to be a Committee representative for the College, Conor O’Boyle, a while back about how informed retraction doesn’t treat all students equally.
He acknowledged that this is indeed a problem, but explained that international students will be given until the end of the semester to work things out with the International Studies Office (ISO) so they would have ample time to make alternative arrangements about their education. He also said that if we don’t move forward with these honor reforms, the broken system will never change — and even though these reforms may be unequal for international students, the Honor Committee would then work with the ISO to make sure that international students are adequately supported. I respect Conor as a friend and strong candidate for office, and I do not doubt his promises any bit. Nevertheless, being a student at this University handicapped within the community of trust by the basis of my nationality makes me think twice about whether I truly am welcomed as a student by my peers. It’s strange to think about us having temporarily suspended equal rights until the Honor Committee finds a solution for this 5 percent of the University.
I understand the Honor Committee’s point about how inexperienced jury members randomly selected from the entire student population may not be able to handle honor trials as effectively and adequately as more thoroughly-trained Honor Committee representatives would. But if we as a university cannot bring ourselves to trust the randomly selected student that bears an averaged-out conception of honor to make decisions, then please stop insisting that we are working towards a community of trust. I don’t think we are moving toward such an ideal.
There is a difference between enforcing a dictated benchmark of personal and academic integrity and creating a community where we can trust and respect each other to abide by a shared notion of honor. The honor reforms are a step towards the former ideal, but they do little to achieve any concrete progress towards the latter. For one, if the cohort of honor representatives poorly reflects the actual demographics of the student population in terms of ethnicity, academic backgrounds, income groups, nationality and even the general level of commitment on Grounds, I find it hard to believe that they are accurately representing what the entire school wants. Nevertheless, it is heartening to see that there are candidates running for office this year who depart from the norm.
Would having an international student run to be an Honor Committee representative and having his or her views reflected in honor cases increase my confidence in the system? I don’t know, but for an individual who is culturally foreign to the United States, who enters U.Va. without knowing a single person and has to work twice as hard to try and belong to the community, the odds of winning an election are sometimes stacked against him or her.
If it sounds like I am against the community of honor in this University, please don’t get me wrong: I believe in academic integrity, and I don’t intend to engage in any form of dishonesty in my classes. I have my own laptop, and I’m definitely not about to prance around unattended desks in the libraries scouting for potential laptops to nick. But as I prepare to graduate this May, it may be difficult to ask myself if I have been part of a genuine “community of trust.”
Jonathan Lim is a third-year College student and the president of Global Student Council.