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Honor Committee discusses student body elections, considers solutions for meeting attendance

Representatives also discussed the contributory health requirement

At Sunday's meeting, the Honor Committee discussed Popular Assembly, Contributory Health Impairments and proper uses of the Committee's endowment amidst student body elections in March.
At Sunday's meeting, the Honor Committee discussed Popular Assembly, Contributory Health Impairments and proper uses of the Committee's endowment amidst student body elections in March.

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The Honor Committee discussed student body elections, addressed rumors surrounding case processing and sanctioning disparities and debated various ways to increase meeting attendance Sunday. 

With 13 members present, the Committee did not have enough members to meet quorum, which requires 19 of the 27 total members to attend. The last time the Committee met quorum was at its Nov. 3 meeting. 

Honor endowment and student elections

Andy Chambers, chair of the Committee and fourth-year College student, provided two substantive updates during the meeting.

Chambers first explained how to properly utilize Honor endowment funds for election-related costs as student-body elections approach. Honor’s Alumni Association mandates that the Honor endowment is not an advocacy fund — as such, neutrality is required when producing educational content related to upcoming proposed referenda. 

Rather than endorsing candidates or referenda, Chambers encouraged members to spread information to their respective schools about the importance of voting in student-body elections and noted that endowment funds can be used to neutrally encourage student turnout in elections.

“Neutral voting is strongly encouraged,” Chambers said. “We want high turnout. Especially when a referendum involves our constitution, we don’t want 10 or 12 percent turnout — we want 50, 60 percent turnout.”

Last spring, the Honor Committee chose not to introduce any referenda. The year before, barely 9 percent of students participated in student body elections and all proposed referenda failed to pass.

Chambers addresses disparities in reporting and sanctions

Chambers also noted that he has recently been made aware of increased discussion among students surrounding the claim that Black students are more harshly penalized under the Honor’s current system.

“There’s been a couple of trends in group chats I’ve heard on statistics and there’s some pretty flagrant misinformation going around,” Chambers said. “One sort of take I’ve heard is that Black students are more harshly penalized under the current Honor system, which is just not really true.”

In an email to The Cavalier Daily following Sunday’s meeting, Chambers said that he brought this up to ensure Honor representatives are educating the student body “honestly and in good faith” on data collected throughout Honor proceedings. 

“I have heard nothing of Committee members not doing that, but those were preliminary remarks to impress upon them the significance of Committee members being absolutely honest about the work Honor has done and has left to do when it comes to racial equity,” Chambers said.

Data from the Honor Committee’s Statistical Transparency Reporting Portal and Bicentennial Report demonstrate that Black students are over-represented in case reports by 2.7 percentage points, at 8.7 percent of reported cases but only 6 percent of University students. On a 60-case per year basis, Chambers said the 2.7 percent disparity amounts to 1.62 cases. Asian American students are also over-represented, comprising 27.1 percent of all reports despite making up about 12 percent of the student population in the same period. 

“Our most recent data shows no over-reporting or over-sanctioning when it comes to Black students,” Chambers said. “The over-reporting among Asian and Asian American students has a strong connection to an overlap with international students who are reported — as the bicentennial report showed, a majority of international students who are reported identify as Asian.”

Chambers continued that discrepancies in the racial demographics of Honor cases are dictated by reports filed, which the Honor Committee itself does not control. 

“We are diligent in holding implicit bias training and building in due process to protect students,” Chambers said. “Having knowledge of every single guilty verdict we have distributed since fall 2018, I can say we have had no false guilty verdicts in that time and there is no evidence to suggest different in recent history.”

Spring election referenda proposals

Following Executive Committee updates, Rep. Christopher Benos, third-year Law student, spoke to the “overwhelmingly positive response” he has perceived among students regarding the two referenda he proposed to the University Board of Elections independently.

One referendum would reduce the sanction for an Honor violation from expulsion to a two-semester leave of absence, while a second referendum would extend the period one can file an informed retraction from a seven-day period to any time between accusation and trial. 

Despite the fact that nearly two weeks remain until the Feb. 23 deadline for both referenda to garner more than 1,250 signatures, the sanctioning referendum has already received over 1,600 signatures and will be put to a student vote. Once on the ballot, any referendum would need ten percent of students to vote on the measures — about 2,700 individuals — and 60 percent of voters to vote in favor in order to be approved.

Representatives discuss the Contributory Health Impairment

The Committee then resumed its conversation from last week about removing the ability of a student to appeal a dean’s preliminary decision on whether to grant a hearing for a Contributory Health Impairment, which is any mental disorder or medical condition that either causes a student to be unable to control their actions surrounding an alleged offense, or to have been so impaired at the time of the offense that the student could not have had the intent to commit the violation.

Any student claiming a CHI is investigated by University administration, not the Honor Committee. If the associate dean of students, presently Laurie Casteen, approves a student’s submitted CHI reasoning, the student undergoes a hearing in front of a panel that decides the validity of the claim. If a student is found by the dean or the panel not to qualify for a CHI, the student can appeal the decision to the Honor Committee. 

Under new language written by Robyn Hadley, vice president and chief student affairs officer, which was brought to the Committee by Chambers Sunday, this appeals process would be removed and the student’s case would be sent to the Honor Committee for a traditional hearing.

Chambers said that a decision regarding if a student’s CHI application is approved or not does not appear to warrant an appeal due to the diligence of the dean in overseeing CHI cases and the relatively low bar for supplying evidence to prove a CHI. Chambers unilaterally has the power to approve the changes — however he said he brought the issue to Committee for open discussion and debate before taking any action.

Benos voiced concern that removing the ability to appeal a dean’s decision seems to be a policy recommendation coming from University leadership and that the change would give too much decision-making authority to administrators. Benos added that the administration’s prepared language to remove the appeals process would remove the Committee’s oversight into CHI processes.

“It sounds like this is more of an administration policy recommendation,” Benos said. “Some of the policies in there — particularly deciding for sanctions — it appears that there is absolutely no oversight whatsoever.”

Chambers and Rep. Lucian Mirra, representative and second-year School of Education student, responded that due to restrictions on medical data sharing from the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, it is impossible for the Honor Committee to obtain a record of the grounds for issuing CHIs and the consequences received in particular cases.

Increasing attendance and accountability

Finally, representatives discussed how to increase case processing accountability and encourage meeting attendance. Chambers proposed drafting tentative bylaws for sanctioning members following a certain number of missed meetings.

Representatives were unenthusiastic about implementing a strict sanction on those who cannot attend regular meetings or sit in on hearings and instead offered up a plethora of alternatives. 

Mirra voiced discomfort with punishing representatives for failing to attend events only offered in-person unless virtual options were available as well. Instead, Mirra advocated for a more robust method of documenting participation in lieu of the Committee’s current method. Currently, members send an email to the chair or appropriate Executive Committee member when they are unable to attend.

“Before we start putting sanctioning on the table, I think we need to make sure we have viable backup options for attendance,” Mirra said. “I think that you know, somebody from SCPA or the Education School who's in a grad program living in Richmond, it's pretty onerous to drive an hour each way for an hour meeting on a Sunday night and get home at 10 p.m.”

Benos said it is imperative that everyone on the Committee fulfills their duty to represent their school to both avoid placing the burden of work onto a small number of people and ensure a diversity of perspectives on all fronts. 

“Everyone should have a duty to represent their school,” Benos said. “We need people from all different schools and all different backgrounds.”

To incentivize more active participation, Benos suggested hosting smaller working groups targeting one or two specific action items throughout the week to give those who cannot attend Sunday meetings the opportunity to be involved.

Rep. Holly Torsilieri, fourth-year Medicine student, suggested aiming for one or two dates per semester far in advance that a quorum of representatives attend. At these meetings, Committee members would be able to vote on actions requiring quorum and reflect on the operations of the Committee.

Updates from the Executive Committee 

Executive Committee members also provided updates during the meeting. 

Rep. Maggie Regnery, vice-chair for investigations and fourth-year Commerce student, began by reporting that the Committee has two upcoming Informed Retractions. An IR is when accused students enter a guilty plea for an Honor accusation against them after the Committee notifies the student of the accusation. Currently, students can submit IRs anytime up to seven days following notice of an accusation.

Rep. Gabrielle Bray, vice-chair for hearings and third-year College student, said she is working to schedule two hearings — both of which have had dates proposed but require a decision on which date is most suitable. 

Caitlin Kreinheder, vice-chair for education and fourth-year Architecture student, then said that preparations for Honor’s Popular Assembly are underway. Official plans for events will be finalized by Feb. 11.

The biennial Popular Assembly is a week-long series of planned events during which Honor educators and representatives make efforts to educate the University community about Honor processes and the ways in which the Honor system impacts students’ lives. This year, the Popular Assembly is themed “Honor — Past, Present and Future.” 

Events are geared towards soliciting student feedback on Honor processes and faith in the Honor system, educating students about Honor’s function and encouraging students to vote in elections this March.

Chambers then surveyed Committee members in attendance on their thoughts about canceling next week’s meeting due to the Super Bowl, which he noted is a custom for the Honor Committee. 

The Honor Committee will not host a meeting this week. Students interested in reviewing petitions related to the Honor Committee’s Constitution may do so here.

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