Honor panel discusses diversity prior to endorsements

Current, prospective Committee members participate in open dialogue

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The panel focused on creating a dialogue between Honor, the MRC and students from other minority groups on Grounds.

Shweta Watwe | Cavalier Daily

A group of students gathered in New Cabell Hall Wednesday night for a question and answer panel with the University Honor Committee. The event was planned and hosted by the Minority Rights Coalition preceding endorsements for Honor candidates this coming weekend.

The panel consisted of three current members of the Committee and eight prospective members running for election this spring. The panel focused on creating a dialogue between Honor, the MRC and students from other minority groups on Grounds.

“I think this panel will hopefully lead into … depending on who’s elected, a more sustained relationship with Honor and MRC — not only just MRC as an institution, but MRC and its constituents, so all of the minority organizations and the students that are under its umbrella,” said Araba Dennis, third-year College student and MRC Vice President of Outreach.

Araba further addressed the novelty of the event and how the dialogue brings Honor directly in contact with the MRC and other minority groups on Grounds.

“We’re in a very particular moment both nationally and as a university, and I think being able to have an event like this is very important in that we’re sort of holding the existing institutions accountable to the minority community in a way that they really haven’t been before,” Dennis said.

The event began with questions the MRC created to ask the panelists before opening up to questions from the audience. The first question addressed the presiding Committee members on how Honor tries to ensure there are no miscommunications between students and the Committee due to cultural differences.

“We’ve had the most trouble with tackling that,” said Katherine Graham, a fourth-year Architecture student and Honor Committee Vice Chair of Community Relations. “A large part of that is our education.”

West continued to explain how miscommunications are most relevant for international students. Honor Committee Chair and fourth-year College student Matt West said there are modules in place to educate first-years when they arrive at the University, but the Committee needs to allocate more resources to target international students for additional outreach.

The second question dealt with diversity and whether Honor faces difficulty in attracting and retaining diverse members.

“My opinion is we’ve made great strides in making the support officer pool more representative of the student body of U.Va,” West said. “There is this perception that the Honor Committee is predominantly white, which is true. We are moving toward becoming a lot more diverse organization.”

The question was then extended to the panel of candidates, focusing on what diversity meant to them and how they will address diversity in their campaigns.

“It’s really easy to talk about diversity in terms of numbers,” said Attiya Latif, a third-year College student and a candidate for Honor Committee College representative. “Diversity is a noun — you need to turn that into a verb when talking about an organization. The first way to make Honor a diverse space is diversifying the way we talk. The second step is to also make Honor a more transparent system.”

Candidates expressed their desire to see the Committee become more actively involved on Grounds and demonstrate direct support for diverse student organizations. Others addressed what they saw as a need to include diversity in opinions and perspectives on the Committee.

“It’s not just about diversity of background and color and things you see on the outside, but a diversity of beliefs … and perspectives,” third-year College student and a candidate for Honor Committee College representative Christopher Benos said.

Still, many candidates focused on the significance of increasing racial, ethnic and religious diversity on the Committee to more accurately reflect the student body.

“It is not enough to wait for diversity to trickle up,” said Eve Immonen, a third-year Batten student and a candidate for Honor Committee Batten representative. “We need active membership of diverse students.”

Some candidates provided concrete initiatives they would begin in order to address concerns between Honor and minority populations at the University.

Third-year Engineering student and a candidate for Honor Committee Engineering representative Cameron Springer noted how international students are disproportionately reported for Honor violations. He highlighted how informed retractions — the process where a student accused of an Honor violation admits their infraction and takes a full two-semester leave from the University — are not as available to them due to visas, legal documentation and travel finances.

“We need to make the honor system work better for minority students when they are reported,” Springer said.

Immonen suggested passing a bylaw to address this same issue for international students.

She specifically suggested “implementing a bylaw that allows international students to be transferred to a community college immediately after a guilty verdict so they can maintain their visa.”

Panelists were able to address a wide range of issues throughout the event, and attendees represented a range of student groups including the MRC, Indian Student Association and Asian Leaders Council.

“I think my main goal … is just to make sure that the MRC constituency did feel that they had a forum, an open forum, to ask questions of Honor that they normally wouldn’t,” Dennis said. “But also that they got a better sense of who was running for Honor … and then they can witness for themselves who’s running and give a more informed opinion of who they want to endorse during endorsements this Saturday.”

Correction: The article previous stated: 

Attiya Latif is the current Honor College Representative. She is a candidate for Honor College Representative. 

Christopher Benos is the current Honor Engineering Representative. He is a candidate for Honor College Representative.

Eve Immonen is the current Honor Batten Representative. She is a candidate for Honor Batten Representative.

Cameron Springer is the current Honor Engineering Representative. He is a candidate for Honor Engineering Representative.

The article previously misstated one of the groups represented was the Indian Student Alliance. The organization is called the Indian Student Association. 

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