UJC proposes constitutional amendments to modernize language, refine statute of limitations

The proposed amendments will be referenda items in the upcoming University-wide election

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Sam Powers, a third-year College student and vice chair for first-years, said a refined 14-day time frame for complaint re-submissions within the UJC statute of limitations intends to protect the accused students who are potentially facing charges, rather than the deans who submit the complaints.

Geremia Di Maro | Cavalier Daily

Seventeen representatives of the University Judiciary Committee approved amendments to its constitution, including proposals to modernize language and refine the statute of limitations for resubmission of complaints Sunday evening. The amendments will appear on the ballot of the upcoming University-wide election as referenda and will be voted on Feb. 26 through March 1.

The proposal to modernize the language of the UJC constitution suggests changing “he or she” and “his or her” to the gender neutral singular forms of “they” and “their” — a decision implemented by Honor Committee in 2017.  

Referring to gender neutrality, Jordan Arnold, fourth-year College student and vice chair for sanctions, said the committee had already missed an opportunity to be fully inclusive in its 2017 amendment, which changed the language to include female pronouns “she” and “her” alongside “he” and “his” in the constitution.

“For a little bit of context, two or three years ago the UJC changed our constitution from having only male pronouns to male and female pronouns in an effort to make the document more inclusive,” Arnold said. “At the time, we were criticized by several U.Va. students ... who said we had missed an opportunity to remove gender considerations from our constitution, so I think that’s maybe some helpful context for our representatives considering this change.”

The modernization would also change the term “psychological conditions” to “contributory health impairments,” which would be the term used to describe health conditions that may have played a significant role in the accused student’s behavior in question.  Currently, the status “psychological condition” is determined by a student’s “Request for an Evaluation Hearing,” which requires an assessment conducted through Student Health Center Counseling and Psychological Services. 

Fourth-year Engineering student and UJC chair Kevin Warshaw said this decision is an opportunity to mitigate the constitution’s potentially stigmatizing language regarding mental illness.

“We will be changing ‘psychological evaluation,’ ‘psychological condition,’ ‘psychological disorder’ — those phrases will be replaced in the psychological evaluation process with ‘contributory health impairment,’ in order to stay consistent with that document, and also just to modernize the language beyond thinking of mental health as something as a disorder or disease,” Warshaw said.  “It’s a condition that’s impacting someone, so we really want that to be reflected appropriately.”

Typos in the constitution would also be addressed by the modernized language amendment.

The second proposed amendment suggested a refined 14-day timeframe for complaint resubmissions within the UJC statute of limitations, which requires initial complaints be issued within 45 days after the accused was identified but does not presently specify a definite period of time for resubmissions. Third-year College student and vice chair for first-years Sam Powers said this definitive limit for resubmissions intends to protect the accused student who are potentially facing charges, rather than the deans who submit the complaints.

“This is mostly in the interest of accused students,” Powers said. “I think it is important that we do accomodate deans in this. However, we’re creating rules to protect the students who come through our system, such that if we file something and we ask them to resubmit it, they can’t wait a month before the student actually realizes that they have charges against them from UJC.”

Referenda appear on the general election ballot after the list of candidates for student offices. Voters are not required to vote on the referenda after casting their votes for student officers. According to the UJC constitution, at least 10 percent of the eligible voting population must also vote on the referendum for it to be considered. Two-thirds of the voters must vote in favor of the referendum item to ratify the amendment.

Warshaw said the first steps of the ratification process required ensuring due process was upheld in the amendments through the University’s General Counsel, then submitting a petition to the University Board of Elections to have the proposals added to the referenda.

“This third step — having our representatives vote on it — is necessary just so the committee signs-off on it and makes sure that it’s consistent with our values and expectations that we hold ourselves to,” Warshaw said. “The next step will be the students making their voices heard through the ballots.”

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