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ALJASSAR: From the outside looking in

Experience working for the Honor System should not be a prerequisite for Honor Committee representatives

This week, five College Representatives to the Honor Committee will be elected. It’s probable that each elected representative will enter the position carrying experience with the Honor System as former support officers.

Experience as a support officer lends a candidate insight into the machinery of Honor bureaucracy. Those who spend a semester in training and several more as Honor Counsel, Advisors and Educators — soon to be merely one “merged” pool of support officers — develop a deep understanding of the Honor System’s structure and history. They serve as the vanguard of the student population in promoting and maintaining the philosophies of Honor.

Nevertheless, voters should not dismiss Committee candidates who hold no experience as support officers. Such candidates offer a unique perspective, one that can reduce the distance between the student population and the Committee.

College student Calvin McPhail-Snyder, a Committee candidate with no support officer experience, writes: “The persistent election of former support officers to the Committee…has resulted in Committees without real connection to student views on Honor.” McPhail-Snyder cites last year’s Restore the Ideal Act, which proposed to institute informed retraction and replace random student juries with juries of Committee members, as a symptom of the gap between the student population and Committee. While the Committee passed the act with a near unanimous 25-1 vote, only 41 percent of students voting supported the act.

Several Committee candidates have identified student alienation from the Honor System as a chief issue for the Committee. Additionally, several have proposed increased outreach as a solution to the growing gap between students and Honor representatives. The problem is that “outreach” is an ill-defined solution that’s introduced each year by Committee candidates. Yet lack of student ownership of the Honor System remains a significant problem.

Providing students with bagels on the Lawn or giving out Honor swag won’t revive the relationship between students and the Committee. Electing a candidate who hasn’t worked as a support officer, however, can increase student engagement with the Honor System. Committee members without prior involvement in the Honor System as support officers may be more understanding of the concerns that face the student population, as evidenced by the gap between the Committee and students’ support for the Restore the Ideal Act.

College student Martese Johnson, the other Committee candidate who hasn’t worked as a support officer, writes that he aims to encourage a “more inclusive, egalitarian Honor system that reflects the values and ideals of every single student at the University of Virginia.” While candidates with no support officer experience such as Johnson may not be as familiar with the mechanics of the Honor System, voters should not discount them as they often bring a new perspective to the serious problems the Honor System faces.

Such Committee candidates may also be more inclined to introduce fundamental reforms to the Honor System. It’s a lot harder to change a system when you’ve been a part of it for years. Aspects of Honor such as the single sanction and jury selections demand attention, and candidates with no support officer experience lend an interesting perspective to these issues.

As you cast your five votes for the College Representatives to the Honor Committee, try not to dismiss candidates who have not worked as support officers. While certainly a qualification, support officer experience should not be a necessary quality. Consider the merits of those who run without such experience, namely their different perspective and potential to increase student engagement with Honor.

Nazar Aljassar is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. His columns run Fridays.


Published February 23, 2014 in Opinion

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