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ALJASSAR: Another kind of diversity

CIOs should offer more leadership positions to younger students

In October, my fellow columnist Gray Whisnant penned a column titled “Reform is required” in which he asserted that reform is necessary to address systemic problems associated with the Honor system. Whisnant points to ill-defined outreach efforts as recurring calls for change that have failed to repair the Community of Trust. Each year, the Honor Committee wrestles with staggeringly low reporting rates and inconsistent verdicts. And each year, the Committee reaffirms its commitment to outreach as a means of increasing student buy-in.

This inertia is not unique to the Honor system. Per an older Cavalier Daily article, the 2008-09 Student Council highlighted increased outreach efforts as its primary focus. That fall, Student Council established Speak Up U.Va., a web-based platform for students to pitch ideas to Council members. Since then, the website has fallen out of relevance, and Student Council finds itself creating new outreach initiatives such as “StudCo Comes to You” in order to tackle issues of student detachment from their governing body. The same proposals dressed in different garb are put forth each year to engage students, yet the problem of Student Council aloofness persists.

Part of this problem can be attributed to a yearly loss of institutional memory, the collective set of facts and experiences held by a group of people. As students enter their fourth years and assume the major leadership positions on Grounds, they have one year to effectuate change as student leaders. Student leaders are therefore limited in their abilities to formulate long-range projects and reforms. Because of graduation, there is massive turnover in student leadership. Such is the nature of student groups at universities.

Our organizations are often led by entirely new groups of people each year, and the result is that we end up with the same short-lived student initiatives year after year. Student organizations should aim to create executive positions exclusively for first- and second-year students in order to allow for the development and execution of longer-term projects. While experience is useful for student leaders, younger student leaders are valuable in that they are around longer and can look further into the future of their organizations.

The University Judiciary Committee (UJC) does an excellent job of providing younger members with opportunities for leadership. The First-Year Judiciary Committee, a subcommittee of UJC, allows first-year students to gain institutional knowledge and leadership experience early in college. Thus, first-year students can have an active role in developing a vision for the organization over their next few years as members.

Student Council should also be applauded for its age diversity in this year’s group of chairs and Executive Committee members. “I think it’s the youngest StudCo has ever been in terms of who the Chairs are and who is on [the Executive Committee],” said Representative Body Chair Abraham Axler in August. “[We have] the opportunity to build a lot of programs and new initiatives and sustain that growth by retaining some institutional memory, so that’s really exciting.” A second-year College student and the youngest member of the Executive Committee, Axler will be able to continue his service with Student Council for two more years.

This year’s Honor Committee includes third-year College student Martese Johnson, the lone third-year Committee member. Because Johnson will remain at the University for another year, he will be able to continue developing his vision to integrate minority students into the system. Additionally, Johnson will be able to work with next year’s Committee and pass along his institutional knowledge acquired through his service as a third-year on the Committee.

Age diversity is something we neglect when we speak of diversity at the University. But just as racial diversity is critical to creating an environment of varied perspectives, age diversity is needed in student leadership positions to maintain institutional memory. By encouraging the election of and creation of leadership positions for younger students, we can build more long-range solutions to problems at the University.

Nazar Aljassar is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at n.aljassar@cavalierdaily.com.

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