Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series by The Cavalier Daily exploring a list of demands submitted to President Jim Ryan’s racial equity task force by a group of Black student activists and also a separate list of demands published by the Black Student Alliance. The full series of articles is linked below.
In the wake of several weeks of protests and demonstrations across the country calling for racial justice and an end to police brutality, the University’s Honor and Judiciary Committees are looking to take actions to address racial bias and a lack of diversity within their institutions by analyzing past case outcomes for racial disparities and expanding recruitment to increase diversity of their memberships.
These efforts come weeks after a group of predominantly Black student activists published a statement and list of demands June 1 in response to a statement released May 31 by University President Jim Ryan addressing nationwide protests in response to the murder of George Floyd and police brutality. After gathering more than 1,900 signatures from University community members and 180 signatures from student organizations on an initial draft of a letter and list of demands to be sent to University President Jim Ryan, a group of predominantly Black student activists submitted a revised statement and list of demands June 12 to the new racial equity task force recently formed by Ryan.
As part of their demands, the students call upon the Honor and University Judiciary Committees to commit more of their time and resources investigating racial biases present in case litigation and increasing the presence of Black, Indigenous and People of Color in each institution. More specifically, the students call upon these institutions to “recommit to efforts of diversity and inclusion” by increasing bias and cultural competency training for their members, addressing the lack of diversity in their leadership positions and expanding outreach opportunities to increase the representation of Black, Indigenous and other People of Color in each body. The students’ list of demands is divided into 13 short-term, mid-term and long-term goals, including the following mid-term goal upon which has been elaborated.
“The Honor and University Judiciary Committees were established to create a unified community of trust, freedom, and safety,” the demand reads. “However, Black, Indigenous and other People of Color students have been disproportionately affected by these committees for decades. Due to the increased push for our country to eliminate systemic racism in the judicial system, we strongly urge that our university’s judicial system follows suit.”
Honor is responsible for overseeing the body of support officers who process reports, trials and sanctions for Honor Code violations. The Committee is made up of 27 representatives from every school at the University, with five from the College and two from other schools. According to the Committee’s website, “by today’s standard, an Honor Offense is defined as a Significant Act of Lying, Cheating or Stealing, which Act is committed with Knowledge.”
UJC oversees case processing, trial hearings and sanctioning for violations of the University’s 12 Standards of Conduct. These standards are adopted by the Board of Visitors, who delegated UJC’s authority in the University’s recognition of student self-governance. UJC consists of 25 representatives who are elected by the University population — with three representatives for the College and two for all other schools — along with 12 appointed First Year Judiciary Council members and support pools consisting of appointed educators, counselors and investigators.
Racial Disparities in Case Outcomes and Bias Training
Both Honor and UJC have experimented with bias training in the past and continue to do so in some capacity, requiring members to consistently participate in such assessments. In December 2018, former UJC Chair Kevin Warshaw said the Committee had reinstated mandatory bias training for all members, but the exact details were unclear at the time. In an email to The Cavalier Daily, Ryan Keane, a rising fourth-year Batten student and Honor Chair, said that Honor currently conducts implicit bias training for all support officers and plans on expanding the scope of such training in the fall.
“We are planning on having a community read related to racism and bias,” Keane said. “This will be helpful in educating the committee and support officer pool, but we will also have discussions in the fall incorporating all members of the U.Va. community. The idea is to educate members of Honor more in-depth on these issues, but we also want to initiate these tough conversations to help us better understand how we can best serve every student.”
According to Honor’s 2019 Bicentennial Report — the largest internal review of case outcomes ever conducted by the Committee, featuring data from a century of annual dismissals and three decades of data on sanctions — there has historically been a disproportionately high sanction rate for students of color, especially African and Asian American individuals. Since 1987, African American students at the University have consistently been subject to higher sanction rates than other student groups, although this disparity has declined significantly in recent years.
Between 1987 and 1989, African Americans comprised 42 percent of sanctioned students, while the African American student population at the time was estimated to be around only nine percent. However, the sanction rate was cut in half to about 22 percent between 2005 and 2009, and in recent years the sanction rate has further declined to about 12 percent between 2010 and 2016. More specifically, the sanction rate was just above 18 percent between 2010 and 2013 and about 3.5 percent from 2014 to 2016.
The white student population at the University has typically received between 30 to 40 percent of sanctions during this time. Relative to the student body, the African American student population at the University has declined from nine percent in 1991 — 1,698 students — to six percent in 2018 — 1,542 students. Meanwhile, the white student population has also gradually declined from just over 75 percent in 1991, or 13,402 students, to about 65 percent in 2018, or 14,168 students, of the total student body.
While the report shows that the disparity for African American students has declined sharply in recent years, Asian American students comprised roughly half of all sanctions between 2012 and 2017, which is disproportionate to their representation in the student population in 2018, making up 12 percent of the student body at the time. However, the report states that neither the disproportionately high sanction rate — nor its more recent decline — for African American students can be conclusively attributed to increased reporting of such students or an internal bias within Honor’s sanction process that led to the racial disparities due to a lack of information regarding the specific cases.
Keane praised the sharp declines for African American students in recent years but emphasized the need to address growing disparities for Asian Americans. He added that he hopes for Honor to begin releasing additional case outcome data in the future, with the next batch expected by early 2021.
While UJC tends to periodically release case statistics without demographic information to the University community throughout the year, the institution has not undertaken a major audit of its case records to measure for potential biases in accusations or outcomes. In an interview with The Cavalier Daily, Gabby Cox, a rising fourth-year Batten student and UJC Chair, said she hopes to change that this fall by releasing case outcome data that includes demographic information. She added that UJC’s History Committee was already working towards this goal during the spring semester but was sidelined when the University moved classes online in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a statement released June 26, UJC announced that it will begin releasing data this fall regarding any instances of disproportionate minority contact and demographic information in reports, case processing, guilty verdicts and sanctioning. The statement also said that UJC will begin mandatory annual bias training for all members to be conducted by the Office for Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights. In addition, all UJC members will be required to complete two separate external training sessions, at least one of which must be offered by a group of University-sponsored programs, including the Multicultural Peer Educator Program Workshop through the Multicultural Student Center, UndocuAlly Training through UndocUVA, Safe Space Training through the LGBTQ Center and the History of African Americans at U.Va./History of Women at U.Va. tours through the University Guides Service.
In an interview with The Cavalier Daily, Lauren Cochran, a rising third-year Batten and College student and one of the demand authors, said she is the only Black counselor on UJC and lamented the current lack of detailed demographic data relating to UJC’s past case outcomes.
“It is very important to have those Black and POC voices in the room, especially when you’re dealing with a POC client,” Cochran said.
Cochran added that the lack of existing demographic data and analysis regarding the outcomes of UJC cases in the past came to her attention when her friend Jada Smith, a rising third-year College student and also one of the letter’s authors, asked her if there are any resources showing racial bias in past case litigations and outcomes.
“She was really interested in seeing a demographic report, and she came to ask me, as a person in UJC, [if I had] that data, and I said ‘no’,” Cochran added. “I’m not even sure if that data exists, but that might be something interesting that UJC, Honor and other administration can look into it because that could really open the door to past discrimination and racial profiling within UJC.”
Internal Demographic Data and Representation
With regards to the representation of Black, Indigenous and other People of Color serving in leadership positions and as counselors and investigators within Honor and UJC, reliable demographic data from either institution has been scarce or incomplete in the past. Both Honor and UJC keep track of such data through annual internal demographic surveys, although the results are not typically published as the data tends to be incomplete due to the ability of respondents to opt out.
In its June 26 statement, UJC announced that the body’s History Committee will begin publicizing an annual report that details the current and past demographic makeup of the body.
However, Cox said she doesn't want to require members to fill out such demographic surveys due to privacy concerns.
“I think that's a little tricky because you are asking individuals to disclose personal information about themselves,” Cox said. “While it would be helpful to have all of our members fill that out, I would prefer not to require it since it is personal information.”
However, UJC did release the results of one such internal demographic survey in the Fall of 2018, showing 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. African American students comprised 13 percent of survey respondents, while making up six percent of the University’s population at the time.
The demographics did not cover the entirety of the Committee — as only 75 out of its 97 members, or 77.3 percent, chose to respond to the survey. At the time, UJC had also begun to collect demographic data for its members through the University’s Student Information System, although some data can be missing from SIS as well if a student chooses not to include it.
While Honor does not currently release the results of its internal demographic surveys due to potential misrepresentations stemming from non-response from some members, data from 2018 shows that 5.5 percent of support officer applications were submitted by individuals identifying as Black of African American. African American students ultimately made up 3.7 percent of selected applicants, while comprising about six percent of the University student body at the time.
About 67 percent of applicants identified as caucasian and made up 68.5 percent of selected applicants. 16.3 percent of applicants identified as Asian or Asian American, making up 13 percent of selected applicants and 12 percent of the student population. Meanwhile, about six percent of applicants identified as Latinx or Hispanic and ultimately made up 5.6 percent of selected applicants.
Keane said that he hopes for Honor to begin releasing more comprehensive internal demographic data more routinely in the future, with the next batch expected by early 2021.
Outreach and Recruitment
Both Keane and Cox said that Honor and UJC have employed strategies in the past to promote diversity among the ranks of each institution by partnering with other student organizations and being present at various events on Grounds to recruit new members.
For Honor, Keane said one of the primary methods that the Committee uses to collaborate with student organizations on Grounds is the establishment of co-sponsorships, in which interested organizations apply for funding from Honor to hold events together in the hopes of fostering a stronger relationship with the Committee. For the 2019-2020 acadmic year, some of the organizations that Honor partnered with included Towards a Better Latin America, the Arab Student Association, the Latinx Student Alliance, the Muslim Students Association, the Chinese Student Association and the Ethiopian and Eritrean Student Organization, among others.
“We would benefit from more minority groups, diversity is obviously very important in any sort of decision making,” Keane said. “I think one of the problems we have … is how do we reach out to these groups and make them want to be a part of Honor?”
While the co-sponsorship application process typically takes place annually, Keane said he also hopes the Committee will foster more permanent connections with the organizations that it partners with by attending regular meetings of organizations or other events. Keane added that he would also like for Honor to be more proactive about fostering relationships with organizations on Grounds, such as BSA and LSA, by taking the initiative to reach out to them instead of waiting for them to do so on their own.
“We know traditionally your group has been underrepresented, we want you to have a seat at the table, we value your opinion, and it's really important,” Keane said. “So really building those connections and making sure people know they have that opportunity to speak their minds and contribute.”
Likewise, Cox said that it is essential for UJC to go beyond traditional methods of recruitment such as attending events on Grounds or activities fairs at the beginning or each semester. She added that part of this effort to expand UJC’s reach while recruiting this fall will include reaching out to multiple student organizations and offering to provide educational resources regarding UJC’s mission.
However, UJC has historically been more constrained than Honor in its ability to develop such relationships and partnerships with student organizations on Grounds due to limited funding sources. In the past, UJC has formed co-sponsorships with a variety of student organizations on Grounds, although the amount of funding able to be provided to each one has been limited to relatively specific requests for funds rather than simply allowing for organizations to spend their allocation however they see fit. In addition, UJC has not typically been able to fulfill every co-sponsorship request it has received in recent years and has had to be more selective in establishing such partnerships due to limited funds to do so.
Currently, UJC’s budget is primarily funded through state-allocated funds provided to the Committee as an agency organization of the University. Between the 2015 and 2019 fiscal years, UJC’s annual budget increased from roughly $16,000 to about $19,500.
UJC alumni also established a donation-based endowment during the 2017-2018 academic year with the hopes of increasing long term funding opportunities for the Committee. The UJC endowment had a balance of almost $13,000 in the spring of 2019. Honor’s main endowment, founded in 1998 through generous alumni donations and overseen by the Alumni Association, has grown to more than $3.3 million as of March 2019. For the 2019-2020 academic year, all organizations that requested funding from Honor received it, according to Isabelle Edwards, a rising fourth-year Curry student and Honor’s vice chair for community relations.
Nonetheless, UJC plans on establishing a standing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee that aims to “[serve] as an advocate for underrepresented minorities in UJC institutional decision making” and reach out to underrepresented communities to increase awareness about the recruitment and application process and receive any feedback from these groups regarding UJC leadership. The committee will also serve an internal investigatory body to act upon any instances of bias within UJC.
“As an organization that represents the University, we need to represent the students within that University,” Cox said. “We fully plan on going out of our way to recruit members from various organizations, if their members and organizations are open to that.”
The full series:
- ‘Facing history head-on’: Black student activists submit demands to President Ryan’s racial equity task force
- ‘We don’t want words, we want action’: Black student activists call for ‘a comprehensive culture shift’ at the University
- More Black and POC voices in the room: Black student activists call for Honor and UJC to ‘recommit to efforts of diversity and inclusion’, address how BIPOC students have been ‘disproportionately affected’
- ‘My anxiety was kicking in’: Examining the fraught relationship between students of color and the police at U.Va.