Chaired by fourth-year Engineering student Kevin Warshaw, the University Judiciary Committee undertook several initiatives during its Fall 2018 term in hopes of making the system more fair and inclusive. The initiatives included revisions of its application format, enforcing mandatory bias and Green Dot training, creating a Diversity and Engagement Committee and releasing the results of its internal demographic survey.
The 97-member Committee is responsible for investigating and trying potential violations to the University’s which 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. To apply to be a representative for UJC — which was last chaired by School of Law alumnus Peter Bautz — an undergraduate student must have been at the University for at least three semesters.
In addition to the Executive Committee, the UJC cohort consists of 25 representatives from the 12 schools of the University who serve as judges during trials, counselors who are assigned to educate and represent the complainant and accused during a trial, educators who lead outreach efforts and obtain feedback, investigators who interview all parties involved in a case and members of the First Year Judiciary Committee — an autonomous subcommittee of the UJC which hears all cases of alleged offenses by first-year students.
Essay-Based Application Format
Starting this year, the University Judiciary Committee no longer required applicants to take a preliminary multiple choice and short answer exam to become a member. UJC this summer that it would be reforming its application process so that students could apply for appointed positions.
More specifically, the counselor pool, investigator pool and FYJC body were through an online essay-based application, followed by one group interview and one individual interview.
Warshaw said the previously-used 40-question test included multiple choice questions related to UJC history and practical scenarios of violations of the Standards of the Conduct, which students had to identify. At the end of the test, students were asked to briefly write about themselves and what motivated them to pursue a position with the UJC. Performance on the exam was then used to determine which students would advance to the interview process.
The updated essay-based application — made up of three short answer questions — allowed students to demonstrate in writing why they would be a good fit to join the committee, as well share any past experiences that would be relevant to the positions they seek.
“I feel like that gave students the ability to express themselves more,” Warshaw said. “It’s less based on what you can memorize in the first week you come to school and it’s more based on who you are as a person and what you can bring to our organization.”
“We actually didn’t see a drop in application numbers so I think that demonstrates a positive outreach effort on our part,” he added. “We were able to hold steady even with a higher burden on the applicant.”
First-year College student Nijat Khanbabayev and first-year Engineering student Gustavo Moreira, the FYJC chair and vice chair, respectively, are members of the first pool of applicants to be by their peers on FYJC under the revised essay-based application format.
Although a subsidiary of the UJC, the FYJC is granted the same sanctioning authority as the UJC and operates under the same by-laws and trial procedures.
If guilt is established during a trial, the FYJC then holds a separate trial for sanction to determine a fair and reasonable punishment. Khanbabayev and Moreira agreed that attempts to correct student violations should be rehabilitative and educational in nature.
“The point of it — I feel for both of us — is not to punish people for doing wrong, but to maintain a positive community,” Moreira said in an interview in October.
Khanbabayev added that the FYJC will rarely expel or suspend a first-year student for violating the Standards of Conduct — barring extreme circumstances. Rather, the committee is more interested in assigning reflective essays and community service. Community service sanctions are typically assigned to Facilities Management, Gordie Center, Parking and Transportation or Recycling.
Warshaw also reinstated requirements for all members of UJC to participate in mandatory training seminars — including events centered on bias and Green Dot training, which focuses on personal violence training.
“In the past we used to require that all members attend some of amount of external trainings,” Warshaw said. “We didn’t do it last year, but we’re bringing it back this year and I think it’s so far really effective at rounding our community members’ perspectives.”
During its first general body meeting of the semester, the UJC its plan to create a committee tasked with analyzing and publishing historical UJC documents on its website in an effort to provide access to the materials for students. The materials are expected to be released by next semester.
Last year, Bautz the other members of the committee of his idea to compile a collection of documents — such as the original UJC constitution — that can be shared with the University community in an online history of the UJC.
The new history committee will be led by fourth-year College student Jordan Arnold, who also serves as UJC’s vice chair for sanctions.
UJC members who volunteer will read through the primary source documents, which are housed in the UJC office, and prepare a short analysis and report. By early 2019, Arnold hopes to create a digital record and timeline of the UJC from its founding that will be published as a new tab on its website.
In the UJC’s last meeting of the semester Sunday, Warshaw discussed the results of UJC’s internal diversity survey for the Fall 2018 term and compared its findings to the University’s overall demographic makeup. The survey data — with a response rate of 77.3 percent — shows slight underrepresentation of some groups in the committee when compared to the University’s population, including Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders and international students.
The demographics do not cover the entirety of the Committee — only 75 out of its 97 members chose to respond to the survey — according to Warshaw. Despite the incomplete response rate for the survey, Warshaw said the effort was a step in the right direction for compiling more comprehensive demographic data for the committee.
This year, Warshaw formed a Diversity and Engagement Committee aimed at building relationships with students across Grounds representing students from diverse backgrounds.
“I think that has provided some very meaningful input on not just the UJC as an organization but also our process and ways that we can be a more supportive body for students at U.Va., so I feel like we’re heading in the right direction in terms of gauging students perspectives of us,” Warshaw said. “But given the scale of U.Va. it can be hard to reach every individual student and that’s just something that we’ll have to keep working on.”
The UJC recently updated its internal data system so that information such as demographic data can be pulled directly from the Student Information Services.
“We’re hoping that will allow us to better monitor who’s coming to the UJC, who’s being reported to us, which will hopefully allow us to monitor that trend over time,” Warshaw said in an interview in November.
Entering next semester, UJC has discussed plans to submit a University referendum to formally revise the language of its constitution to make it more inclusive to students.
“We’re going to be looking into making our constitution gender-neutral which I think is a very positive step for our organization,” Warshaw said.
He added that the UJC also plans to clarify the statute of limitations that any individual or group has to comply with when filing complaints in an effort to help the committee respond to complaints more efficiently.
Warshaw would also like to build a wider recognition among students.
“A lot of students get confused about where the line is drawn between Honor and UJC,” Warshaw said. “In terms of how we can dispel that confusion I think that...comes down to how well we can perform outreach, potentially doing outreach alongside Honor so that students can see the two contrasted among one another.”
Currently, plaques listing the University’s 12 Standards of Conduct are placed in various first-year dorms to keep students mindful as they transition into a new environment. UJC also spoke to the entire first-year class and transfer students at Convocation in August, as opposed to previous years when they spoke at John Paul Jones Arena.
“If you address first-years, then that’s something that they would hopefully carry with them throughout their college career,” Warshaw said. “I think first-year outreach has to be our number one priority in that sense.”
Clarification: This article has been updated with language to clarify that First-year College student Nijat Khanbabayev and first-year Engineering student Gustavo Moreira, who currently serve as FYJC chair and vice chair, respectively, were selected for the positions by their peers on FYJC as members of the first pool of applicants under the revised essay-based format.