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The U.Va. Orientee’s Guide to Student Self-Governance

An overview of the four branches of student government — UJC, StudCo, Class Councils and School Councils

Members of student council voting at a meeting this spring — one of many forms of student self-governance on Grounds.
Members of student council voting at a meeting this spring — one of many forms of student self-governance on Grounds.

The University places a significant emphasis on the role of students in their own self-governance — the considerable autonomy and responsibility of students in overseeing their experience on Grounds. Here’s an overview of the four major branches student government.

Honor Committee

The Honor Committee is the body of elected and appointed University students who uphold the Honor Code at the University — the commitment to not lie, cheat or steal — and oversee trials of members of the community accused of violating the code. The Honor Committee consists of representatives from all graduate and undergraduate schools who assess charges of Honor Code violations and delegate punitive measures when appropriate.

“The spirit of honor is virtually indistinguishable from the concepts of self-governance as both call for students to choose integrity while living, learning, and leading within this special community,” said Ory Streeter, a Medical student and the Honor Committee chair, in an email to The Cavalier Daily.

The Honor Committee follows a single sanction policy where a student convicted of an Honor violation is permanently dismissed from the University. If a student is accused of violating the Honor Code, the allegation is first subject to a thorough investigation by two Honor Investigators. After the full investigation, the case goes before an investigative panel of three Honor Committee members, who decide whether to formally accuse the student or drop the case. If a student is accused by the panel, they have seven days to request a trial. Trials result in a guilty or not guilty verdict.

If a student is reported to the Honor Committee for a potential Honor violation, they have the option of filing an Informed Retraction. In the IR process, the accused student is permitted to admit to their offense and take a two-semester leave of absence from the University. Additionally, if a student has committed an Honor violation — and they have no reason to believe they are under suspicion for violating the Honor Code — they can file a Conscientious Retraction where they admit their action and makes amends in order to remain in the Community of Trust.

“Today, the Honor System continues to challenge students to live with integrity and hold their peers accountable to the highest standards of our Community of Trust,” Streeter said.

Students interested in the Honor Committee can apply to become an Honor Dorm Representative or Committee Support Officer. Dorm representatives, Streeter said, train with the Committee to discuss Honor-related issues in their dorm. Support officers, on the other hand, are trained to investigate Honor cases and help students reported to the Committee. 

“The University is not simply an institution to pass through on the way to future success or a collection of traditions to blindly embrace,” Streeter said. “Student self-governance is a privilege which allows us to grow through our investment in each other. It is, simultaneously, a responsibility to examine the past and better the University for the students of tomorrow.”

Streeter says Honor fits with other governing bodies as a mechanism for maintaining an ethical environment on Grounds.

“The spirit of honor is virtually indistinguishable from the concepts of self-governance as both call for students to choose integrity while living, learning, and leading within this special community,” Streeter said.

University Judiciary Committee 

The University Judiciary Committee is the body responsible for investigating and trying potential violations of the University’s Standards of Conduct — 12 standards that govern student behavior beyond the lying, cheating and stealing covered in the Honor Code. The Standards of Conduct address behavior such as the damage of or unlawful entry onto University property, disorderly conduct on University property or the violation of state or federal laws. The Committee is composed of 25 Representatives elected from the University’s twelve graduate and undergraduate schools. These Representatives act as judges in UJC trials. In the event of a guilty verdict in such a trial, a number of sanctions may be imposed ranging from admonition to expulsion from the University. 

Kevin Warshaw, a fourth-year Engineering student and the chair of UJC, said that UJC has an important role in student self-governance at the University.

“We really aim to make sure that students at U.Va. understand the general principles that guide this University, and making sure that people enjoy their time here in a safe manner,” Warshaw said. “And so I really think that guiding principle is probably the main way in which UJC functions in the broader scheme of student self-governance.” 

To apply to be a representative for UJC, a student must have been at the University for at least three semesters. However, Warshaw said, there are opportunities for first-years to get involved with UJC. 

“We have three support officer pools and then one representative body made up entirely of first-years that’s not elected positions — those are all appointments,” Warshaw said. 

Warshaw added that there is a new recruitment policy in place this year, under which students can apply for those appointed positions in an essay-based application that will be available online, followed by one group interview and one individual interview. 

“Basically the way that we’re envisioning it currently is that we’ll have an application made up of three to five short answer or essay-based questions that students will have the opportunity to fill out,” Warshaw said. 

He encouraged incoming first-years to take advantage of the opportunities that student self-governance at U.Va. presents. 

“I really just believe that student self-governance gives students at U.Va. a lot of power to direct their own lives and their own experiences at U.Va.,” Warshaw said. 

Student Council 

Student Council is the organization of elected student officials charged with governing student life on Grounds and addressing grievances from the student body. It is run by the president and the executive board, who oversee a representative body made up of students elected from every University school. Student Council oversees an annual budget of about $900,000, which it allocates to the various student groups on Grounds. Student Council also handles legislative matters that pertain to student life such as publishing formal statements condemning or supporting actions related to the University, creating initiatives for students such as a forthcoming community food bank and sponsoring University-wide events such as Lighting of the Lawn. 

Alex Cintron, a fourth-year College student and president of Student Council, said that there are a number of opportunities for first-years to get involved.

“The most accessible way to get involved with Student Council is to apply to a committee in the fall,” he said. 

Those positions will be advertised at the fall activities fair, Cintron said. Student Council oversees 10 standing presidential committees, which cover a multitude of specific areas of interest. There is also an option to run for election to the representative body of Student Council.

Cintron added that Student Council was the best path forward for people who want to get involved with advocacy on issues relating to student life. 

“Largely the reason why people join Student Council, and the reason why I stayed in Student Council, is that there are issues at the University, policies that we feel may be inequitable, or changes that we would like to see that are in the best interests of students, and Student Council is the way largely  to get involved,” Cintron said. “We’re the student governing body of U.Va., we represent the students to change some of the things we’d like to change.” 

Class Councils

Class Councils are responsible for planning class-wide events and activities that foster a sense of community for their classmates, such as first-year formal or final exercises for fourth-year trustees. 

Kristin Myers, a second-year College student and vice president of Second-Year Council, said that it was in part the event-planning aspect that drew her to class council. 

“What really drew me to class council was that it wasn’t so much policy driven, it was really about making people’s experience at the University better, it was about making people’s day and planning events,” Myers said. “You really just get to address the needs of the class in unique and exciting ways.”

Galen Green, a fourth-year Commerce student and the president of the Fourth-Year Trustees, added that student self-governance at U.Va. was a good way to practice for the real world.

“It’s all about taking the initiative, having ideas and believing in them,” Green said. “It teaches you a lot of hard skills for later, if you want to start your own business, I think learning how to fight for people to listen to you and your ideas at U.Va. is a lot easier than starting to do that in the real world.” 

Elections to first-year class council take place in September. Myers said the election process involves a mandatory interest meeting, followed by a brief period of campaigning. 

“You attend that meeting and they’ll tell you all about different positions you can run for in class council and association council,” Myers sad. “It’s in mid-September that that will happen, and then there’s a small campaigning window where you can go around and talk to people in your association and explain to them why you’re running, why you’re passionate about serving, and then the voting all happens online.” 

School Councils

School councils vary in size between the 12 graduate and undergraduate schools of study, but all consist of representatives elected from within the school they represent. They collaborate to host a variety of social events and activities that specifically cater to members of that particular school, such as free food and study breaks, sponsored dinners and guest speaker events. 

Taylor O’Neal, a fourth-year Nursing student and Nursing School Council president, said that school councils are an integral part of student self-governance at U.Va. She added that participating in student government at the University level is a good way to prepare for being an engaged citizen after graduation.

“I think it’s important because it gives the students a voice to their own education, to the environment that they’re in,” O’Neal said. “It really helps prepare us as adults and citizens to be active in our lives once we get out of the University, to make a difference and a change in our communities and our world.”

Jordan Richardson, a fourth-year Architecture student and Architecture School Council president, said that student self-governance is one of her favorite things about the University. 

“It allows us to have a really truly huge influence on our college experience, something that my friends who go to other universities don’t have,” Richardson said. “They don’t have the say to be able to decide where budget money goes to benefit themselves and their peers and I think that being able to have that voice is such a privilege, and one of my favorite things about going to U.Va.”

O’Neal encouraged incoming first-year students to start getting involved in student government as soon as possible. 

“I think my biggest advice would just be, just go ahead and jump right into it,” O’Neal said. “I got involved in my second year and I kind of wish I had gotten involved in my first year because I love it and I think it is an amazing opportunity for you to grow, find out what you’re passionate about.”

O’Neal said first-years can run for election to school council during the fall semester. Additionally, she said they can sit in on school council meetings and take assistant roles until they find something that they are passionate about. 

“Once you find something you’re really passionate about, or that you want to see changed, it just gets you kick-started into living up to your full potential of trying to change or advocate for something,” O’Neal said. 

Contracted Independent Organizations

Contracted Independent Organizations are organizations composed primarily of students which operate semi-independently of the University. While many students are not directly involved with Student Council or other organizations listed above, hundreds are members and leaders of CIOs. CIOs are most easily compared to student organizations or clubs at other institutions, but the University and Student Council have stricter oversight rules for CIOs than many other schools have for their clubs.

There are over 800 registered CIOs on Grounds which include ethnic and cultural groups, political organizations and club athletic sports, among others.