BATTS & LYON: It’s time to celebrate forgiveness by listening to the six chapel bells ring

Considering the Informed Retraction is one of the most monumental aspects of the Honor System, celebrate its institution Thursday by listening to the Chapel bells ring


As the University continues to celebrate its Bicentennial and reflect upon the Honor System’s 177 years of existence, the Chapel bells will ring to celebrate the six years since the institution of the Informed Retraction.

Riley Walsh | Cavalier Daily

At 12:30 p.m. on February 14th, six consecutive chimes will ring from the carillon of the Chapel at the University followed by the Good Ol’ Song. The ringing of the Chapel bells traditionally signifies the occurrence of notable events and moments of remembrance at U.Va., including the inauguration of our university presidents, historic athletic wins and the deaths of members of the 7 Society. The six chimes Thursday will be no exception. As the University continues to celebrate its Bicentennial and reflect upon the Honor System’s 177 years of existence, the Chapel bells will ring to recognize and celebrate the six years since the institution of the Informed Retraction. For the first time, the Informed Retraction introduced a degree of forgiveness to the Honor System for reported students.

Over the past six years, more than 96 students have taken responsibility for alleged violations of the Honor Code by submitting an Informed Retraction. The Informed Retraction allows a student who has been reported for an Honor offense to take responsibility for their actions, make amends with the affected parties and complete a two semester leave of absence before returning to the Community of Trust and completing their academic studies. 

Since its inception in 2013, the Informed Retraction has been regarded as the single-most monumental change the Honor System has experienced. Before it was adopted, there was no avenue for students suspected of an Honor offense to admit to the offense and remain at the University. Reported students only had the ability to proceed through an investigation and, if formally accused, take their case to a hearing, at which point a not-guilty verdict brought no sanction and a guilty verdict resulted in permanent dismissal from the University. 

Beginning in the 1980s, students who have committed an Honor offense and wish to take responsibility prior to coming under suspicion have had the ability to submit a Conscientious Retraction, whereby they formally admit to the commission of an Honor offense and make amends with those affected by it. Upon submitting a complete and valid Conscientious Retraction, a student receives no sanction from the Honor Committee and has a full defense should the act in question ever be reported. Until 2013, there was no middle ground. 

When the Honor Committee began formally hearing cases of lying, cheating and stealing, the sole result of a guilty verdict at an Honor hearing was permanent dismissal from the University. This penalty has become known as the ‘single sanction.’ While the establishment of the Informed Retraction introduced forgiveness and an opportunity for self-responsibility to the Honor System, it also effectively created an additional sanction as well. The single sanction still exists as the outcome of a guilty verdict, but the Honor System is no longer purely a single sanction system, as it has the capacity to impose a lesser sanction when a student takes ownership of their actions and makes amends to the Community of Trust.

Nine years before the adoption of the Informed Retraction, the Faculty Senate released a report detailing a series of recommendations for improvements to the Honor System. In one of these recommendations, the Faculty Senate expressed the sentiment that the University “is not simply a collection of isolated individuals, but instead is constituted by members working together to form a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts” and encouraged the Community of Trust to “celebrate the forgiveness of a member by ringing a bell.”

The Informed Retraction represents the crucial place of forgiveness in a system whose ultimate goal is the support and encouragement of the Community of Trust. A student’s decision to make an Informed Retraction requires a great deal of courage and integrity. As such, the Honor Committee is ringing the Chapel bells to honor the spirit of the faculty’s recommendation and celebrate the monumental addition of the Informed Retraction as well as the numerous students who have re-committed themselves to the Community of Trust since its implementation six years ago.

Julia Batts is a fourth-year student in the Engineering School and currently serves as the Honor Committee Vice Chair for Education. 

Lillie Lyon is a third-year student in the College and currently serves as an Honor Senior Support Officer.

Correction: The subhead for this article previously misstated the day the bells of The Chapel would be ringing. It has been changed to reflect the correct day. 

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