Several low-income University students who lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic say their off-Grounds landlord threatened them with Honor charges if they did not pay rent by Monday, April 6. Failure to pay rent is currently included in the Honor Code’s definition of stealing and students who are found guilty will be permanently expelled from the University.
Honor representatives condemned the potential stealing charges as discriminatory, outdated and inappropriate — especially during a health crisis — in a public Zoom meeting in the final hours of their term April 5. However, the Committee stopped short of assuring the students that they would be protected from the potential Honor trials, and deferred all action to the next term. Low-income students say they are paying the price for the delay.
“I understand that there are transitions that are happening and things like that, but things are happening now, and I think Honor just needs to think a little bit more immediately, for lack of a better word,” one student said to the Committee. “Other than that, it is going to be something that students — low-income students — have to bear the burden of.”
The new Committee, which was appointed over the weekend of April 5, is led by incoming Honor Chair Ryan Keane, a third-year in the College. Keane said in a later interview with The Cavalier Daily that Honor is currently working on policy changes to protect students facing Honor charges due to rent disputes.
“[It] really wasn't that big of a question because we kind of all agree, but this past week myself and the rest of the executive committee wrote a memo for how we’re going to move forward with all the rent cases,” Keane said. “Until coronavirus is over, as long as U.Va. is still closed, we are not going to take any cases coming out of a rent dispute.”
Representatives at the April 5 meeting pointed out that evictions are paused until April 26 under a Supreme Court of Virginia order. One student — a third-year in the College who asked The Cavalier Daily to conceal her name because she is seeking legal aid — also wanted Honor to promise they will not face trials and possible expulsions in the future because of financial struggles that were out of their control.
“People are looking at Honor to support students at the University,” the student said in the meeting. “Honor saying that people are safe from eviction for the time being, I personally don’t think it is good enough of a response.”
Second-year Darden Representative Elizabeth Thompson also stressed that low-income students needed simple and timely affirmations from Honor that it would not process the stealing cases.
“The priority should ... really just be to communicate reassurance to students that are being threatened to be evicted that we are not going to try to double hit them with Honor charges in the midst of that,” Thompson said during the meeting. “They cannot be evicted right now, and hopefully they are not feeling that stress, but they are feeling the stress that they may get brought up on Honor charges … We owe our community a response really quickly that just gives people peace of mind.”
The University community joined in the students’ calls for a prompt response from Honor — former Batten Representative Harper North, a fourth-year student, told the Committee that she received one hundred emails in three days about the issue.
More representatives agreed, and urged fourth-year College student Lillie Lyon on April 5 to make direct and immediate relief her final act as Honor chair. But Lyon emphasized that the Committee was unable to write, debate and pass a bylaw amendment concerning all future rent-related cases in their three remaining hours in office.
“As far as, especially the long term, goes [we need] a lot of thought and discussion about what we're balancing, how best to balance it and if compromises need to be struck,” Lyon said.
Lyon determined that it would be inappropriate to set any policy in her final hours as chair that the incoming Executive Committee — who may not necessarily agree with the decision — would have to uphold. Instead, Lyon authorized an internal memo to summarize their stance for the incoming Committee.
Over the weekend of April 5, third-year Engineering student Zainab Aziz was appointed to the Executive Committee as vice chair of investigations, third-year College student Andy Chambers as vice chair of hearings, third-year College student Madhav Nair as vice chair of education and third-year Curry student Isabelle Edwards as vice chair of community relations.
“Honor will do what it can,” Lyon said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily after the meeting. “It's unfortunate that the transition is falling where it is, and I truly am sorry about that. But we'll do our best to bridge that gap to work with the new Committee. I have full faith in them to handle this appropriately.”
Keane described in an interview with The Cavalier Daily that he was not committed to dropping or postponing potential Honor cases as Honor chair.
“I don’t agree with the landlord [who is], in my view, looking to take advantage of someone [by] sticking by their rent,” Keane said. “But at the same time, I think it's a pretty rushed move to just go forward and say we're going to disallow rent as something not under our jurisdiction.”
This article has been updated to correctly identify students' positions on the new Executive Committee.