Fourth-year College student Devin Rossin sat down Monday in the Honor Committee offices with Cavalier Daily Associate News Editor Caroline Stoerker to discuss his experience as Honor Committee chair for the 2017-18 school year. Rossin talked about his goals for the committee and repercussions of the white nationalist rallies of Aug. 11 and 12 on his work.
For more coverage on Honor through its 2017-18 term, you can find this year-in-review summary by The Cavalier Daily.
Caroline Stoerker: Coming into the 2017-2018 term, what were your goals for the term and do you feel like you’ve accomplished them?
Devin Rossin: I think that the major goal for the term, at least for my vision, was to expand the definition of the community of trust and to make students feel as if the Honor system is representative of their needs and desires, and I believe that we met that goal. Obviously it’s going to be a[n] area that the Honor Committee’s always going to have to strive to increase buy-in and things like that and increase representation. But I do believe that we met and even succeeded, frankly, my expectations of how well the year would go and I think that’s something that committees in the future are going to be focused on both maintaining and increasing.
CS: What personally for you was the most rewarding part of your time as Committee chair?
DR: So one of my closest friends was [former vice chair for community relations] Martese Johnson, and he was part of the reason why I stayed with Honor and part of the reason why I ran for chair and another close friend of mine, VJ Jenkins, who was the vice chair of community relations the year after Martese, was a really close friend of mine, a best friend of mine, and another really strong reason why I ran for chair. Both of them had ran for chair in the past — didn’t really achieve it, but really fought hard to make sure that Honor was representative of the needs of a very diverse University body and reflective of needs of groups of students that are traditionally underrepresented and over-reported in the system. So their leadership, their help in helping me to reach the spot where I’m at and be able to have the platform that I was able to have and the amazing Committee and exec board and support officer pool that I was able to work with throughout the year. I guess being able to make both of them proud, as well as being able to serve hopefully as some sort of, for the committee as a whole, as some sort of a[n] inspiration for students coming to the University who don’t, you know, fit in the mold.
CS: What do you feel like was the most challenging part?
DR: All of it. [Laughs] … I knew conceptually how difficult the role would be, but there’s a lot — there’s a big difference between understanding in your head how difficult it is and dealing with the actual work that comes along with it. So it’s hard to pin down a specific thing, but working on different policy issues, increasing buy-in, making sure that we’re reflective of the needs of the entire University is a hugely daunting task, but also being both somebody trying to push for what you believe the rest of the Committee wants, but also for what you believe the Committee should be personally. Navigating that realm was incredibly difficult, but at the end, I think that myself, the rest of exec, all of Committee ... we kind of learned a lot of valuable lessons throughout that and hopefully things that Committees in the future can learn from as well.
CS: What was something that the Committee accomplished this term that you’re most proud of — maybe just a general thing?
DR: I’ll couch it in the policy realm and then the education and outreach realm. The policy realm, obviously the [Informed Retraction reform]. That’s a huge expansion. I think it makes the system fundamentally more fair for students who are going through the proceedings. There’s no arbitrary distinctions to what you can and cannot take an IR for now, and introduces some degree of relativity into the IR process and the kind of amends that you have to make there — so students who cheat on a lot of assignments versus cheating on a few — both are able to take the IR now. It also has scaling, so if you did more or did less, whatever amends you have to make are reflective of that.
I think that this will make the system a lot more fair to students who are going through it and hopefully increase students’ trust inside of the system. In terms of education and outreach, forming relationships with groups of students who have traditionally not had relationships with Honor has been really huge. That’s been something that I’m incredibly proud of.
But beyond that, taking stances on things such as the events of August 11 and 12 may seem like a small thing to post something on Facebook and reach out to different community leaders who are directly affected by that. That’s something that’s unprecedented for Honor. We’ve never done anything like that, to the best of my knowledge. So being able to have the moral bravery to step up to situations like that and kind of set that precedent for groups coming forward has been incredibly important and I think incredibly impactful.
CS: Expanding on what you just talked about August 11 and 12, how specifically do you feel like the events of that weekend impacted your work as Committee chair?
DR: I was in my [Lawn] room as those things were happening. It was horrible. But I think that changed how we discussed the community of trust. The goal at the beginning of the Committee was to expand the role of the community of trust beyond just lying, cheating and stealing and how it does include things such as speaking on hate speech. It directly impacted me — I’m the first black chair in 25 years.
It was difficult to see that going on as I’m trying to expand the community of trust, as I’m trying to bring the University together with a bunch of other student leaders and the rest of Committee and the rest of exec and the support officer pool and the entirety of the Honor system. So that kind of personalized effect on it, intermingling with the broader goals of the entire Committee, kind of helped set the tone for how we discussed Honor moving forward.
CS: You’ve said earlier that you don’t necessarily want to speak on behalf of the incoming Committee, but what goals and initiatives do you hope that the incoming Committee will continue after the transition?
DR: I think the biggest goal of our Committee will be expanding the community of trust, the definition of that and what groups are comfortable using that. I hope and I have full faith that they’re going to continue that work, and I think that’s probably the most important thing that Honor can do byeond any discussion on policy and procedural change, things like that.
For example, the IR change. While I think it’s massive, most students don’t really understand what the IR does at a granular level. So expansion of single nexus of events to substantial and similar conduct and circumstances to now this whole additional admissions expansion might seem kind of granular and legalistic and overly in depth in terms of bylaw language, but something that everybody can buy into and understand. At a surface level, it’s what the community of trust is, what Honor means in their personal lives and in the kind of larger University life. I think that expanding that, continuing to expand that, continuing to make different students comfortable with that phrasing and making this into a true community of trust is a major thing that I would like to see continue to get expanded on. But it’s a new Committee with their own goals, thoughts, ideologies and whatever they do, I’m going to be proud of what they accomplish.
CS: How has being a part of the Honor Committee both as chair and then in the years prior to that impacted the way that you view the University?
DR: When I originally came to U.Va., I didn’t feel as if I fit in. I mentioned a lot of this in my [fall 2017] convocation speech. I don’t come from the highest income background. I went on eBay and bought a bunch of like, Polo shirts and whatnot to try to fit in with what I thought the prototypical U.Va. student should look like. But I was really able to find my own realm of comfortability within Honor, a lot of that being because of the work and personal relationship with people like Martese and VJ. But it really gave me a home at U.Va. It gave me a mission here, it gave me a drive here and has been the single most important thing that I think I’ve done at the University and one of the most important institutions at the University, period.
I think that U.Va., as I mentioned during my convocation speech, Honor is the one thing that’s invoked when you enter the University and when you finally leave it. At the beginning of your first year, you hear the convocation speech from the sitting chair, you hear about the tenets of the Honor system and then you go off and sign the Honor scrolls and pledge yourself to be part of the community of trust and to uphold that community. And then when you graduate, you say you’ve worn the honors of honor, you’ve graduated from Virginia. It spans your entire time here and even though it may not always be at the forefront of your mind, it’s always in the background, whether it’s taking an assignment or talking to people or even standing up against hate speech. Hopefully, it’s something that carries with people long past their graduation as well, so I think it really helps establish a morality and a character in the people who attend the University.