Student Council voted to pass SR22-04, a resolution denouncing the University’s lifting of certain indoor mask mandates, and SR22-05, a resolution in support of the referendum that would reform the Honor Committee’s single-sanction policy, at its meeting Tuesday night. The representative body also heard executive updates on a variety of topics ranging from spring break transportation and support to the search for a new Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
Executive Board updates
The meeting began with several updates from Abel Liu, president of Student Council and fourth-year College student. Liu discussed a recent meeting with administrators from Student Health and Wellness, noting that they are working together to reduce the cost of STI testing at the University based on existing testing systems at other universities in Virginia. STI screening through Student Health currently costs between $20 and $40, depending on the type of test.
Liu also shared that renovations to Student Council’s office have been approved, and that the search committee for the new Dean of the College is meeting with student groups and will likely hold public listening sessions or town halls in the future. The committee is also soliciting student feedback through a survey. University leadership is searching for a new dean after announcing that Ian Baucom, the previous Dean of the College, will succeed Liz Magill as the next provost.
Holly Sims, chief of cabinet and third-year College student, then informed the representative body that spring break meal kits provided by the Student Life agency will be available for pick-up in Newcomb Hall in Room 360 March 3 and 4. Sims also said Student Council will be organizing a free STI testing clinic in April. Student Council previously organized a free clinic in October.
In anticipation of spring break, Adrian Mamaril, chief of Support and Access Services and third-year Commerce student, noted that Airbus tickets are still available for students who need transportation to the Richmond, Charlottesville or Dulles airports to travel over the break. The Airbus service provides low-cost transportation to students to Dulles International Airport, Richmond International Airport and Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport from Grounds.
Representative body votes to denounce lifting of mask mandate
Student Council then moved into legislative session. The group first considered SR22-04, a resolution denouncing the lifting of certain masking restrictions. The resolution was by Rep. Tyler Busch, second-year College student, and Gabriela Hernandez, chair of the representative body and third-year College student.
University administration announced plans to lift certain indoor masking requirements effective March 21 in an email sent Feb. 22. While the mask mandate will remain in place in classrooms, U.Va. Health facilities and University Transit Services, masks will now be optional in all other University-owned spaces — including office buildings, IM-Rec facilities and outdoor venues such as the John Paul Jones arena. The University cited recent improvements in public health data as the reason behind lifting the restrictions, as well as a high vaccination rate among students.
The resolution criticized the University’s recent decision, as the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing.
“The University has made this decision with the threat of the virus to fully vaccinated, healthy individuals in mind with little mention of its threat to those who are vulnerable despite vaccination status,” the resolution reads.
The resolution asks the University to “consider the collective nature of this pandemic” by revisiting its decision to lift mask mandates in all University-owned spaces except classrooms, U.Va. Health facilities and University Transit Services.
“The reason I'm bringing this resolution now is just because, for me, this idea of … lifting some mask mandates indoors appears to be ableism, plain and simple,” Busch said.
The resolution sparked debate among representatives, some of whom felt it was hypocritical for Student Council to denounce the University’s choice to lift masking requirements when they themselves engage in social activities without masks.
Rep. Andreas Masiakos, first-year College student, asked Busch if he would consider adding language to the resolution that would outline circumstances where the University could remove masking mandates that representatives would be comfortable with. Busch responded that while he would have no problems with adding language, keeping the mask mandate in place until the end of the semester seems “most beneficial” to him.
Rep. Violette Cadet, second-year College student, added that the Centers for Disease Control still mandates masks in indoor settings — the CDC currently provides masking guidelines based on COVID-19 community levels.
While COVID-19 cases are decreasing among the University community, Charlottesville is currently classified as “high,” meaning the CDC recommends individuals wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status. Cadet recommended adding language to the resolution which says Student Council would support removing the mask mandate when the CDC deems it appropriate.
Rep. Ella Tynch, third-year Education student, proposed an amendment to the resolution to explain why it is still important to wear masks in academic buildings, noting that many students — including members of Student Council themselves — attend social events unmasked.
“To me, it seems a little hypocritical when I know we're all attending — or most of us are attending — social events with large groups of people,” Tynch said. “I think that would make me feel a little better about the consistency of this bill, and the content of this bill with everybody in this group’s actions.”
The group voted to amend the resolution to acknowledge that while many members of the community have attended unmasked social events and met in large groups, not all students not “enjoy the ability to 'return to normal' without fear of contracting what could be a fatal case of COVID-19.”
Debate continued on concerning the amended resolution — Rep. Lillian Rojas, second-year College student, maintained that she felt it was “hypocritical” for Student Council to vote “yes” on the resolution if members of the legislative body were participating in large social events without masks.
In response, Tynch noted that she thinks “there's a reasonable expectation of safety when you enter a University building,” something all students are entitled to.
Rep. Rand Perry, fourth-year Batten student, said that he is also frustrated with the “piecemeal” nature of the restrictions — Perry said he feels like the mandate would have little effect on Grounds, saying that a more effective course of action might be to ramp up testing efforts.
Tynch said she felt it was necessary to produce some sort of resolution before the end of the meeting — ultimately, while the representatives agreed that the nature of mask mandates and restrictions were confusing and at times hypocritical, the group agreed to vote on the amended resolution.
The amended resolution passed with 12 representatives voted in favor, four voted against, and one representative abstained.
Representative body votes to support proposal to reform Honor Committee constitution
The second piece of legislation, SR22-05, was sponsored by a number of representatives. The resolution supports the referendum on the ballot to amend Article II of the Honor Committee’s constitution by reducing the sanction for committing an Honor offense from expulsion to a two-semester leave of absence.
The resolution cited the disproportionate number of students of color and international students who face Honor cases. Per the Committee’s Bicentennial Analysis Report, data demonstrates that Black, Asian and Asian American and international students were all overrepresented in reports.
“The Student Council Representative Body is staunchly in support of ensuring that the most severe punishments do not fall disproportionately on marginalized students, specifically, students of color and international students,” the resolution reads.
Two students spoke to the resolution during the meeting. The first was Andy Chambers, chair of the Honor Committee and fourth-year College student. Chambers emphasized that although the numbers in the report were correct, 30 percent of the reports were unaccounted for in terms of race, which he referred to as “an unknown block” that may affect the data.
Chambers further argued that changing the single sanction policy would affect the quality of the Honor committee’s hearings.
“This is going to strain the current Committee and allow more opportunities for failures on the part of … officers and for failures on the part of us being a thorough and diligent process,” Chambers said. “We've done a lot of work in the past to make this process good, and this is going to reverse that work.”
Christopher Benos, third-year Law student and Honor representative, also spoke on the Honor referendum during the meeting’s legislative session. Benos authored the referendum and emphasized what he views as flaws in the single-sanction system.
“Expulsion brands students who make mistakes as irredeemable,” Benos said. “More work is desperately needed to address disparities … we can no longer support a sanction that is historically allowed and could prospectively allow the most severe outcome to fall disproportionately on some communities more than others.”
Benos urged students to vote in favor of the referendum, acknowledging that while it is not a “perfect” reform, students have faced inaction from the Committee for too long.
“Inaction has been a privilege of those with means, power and status,” Benos said. “Doing nothing hurts students, and expulsion benefits no one. Internal solutions and inaction have failed us all for too long.”
During the fall, the Committee debated and ultimately failed to internally pass five proposals aimed at reforming the honor process, including Benos’ referendum — frequently, the group also failed to reach quorum, and could not even vote on these proposed changes. Benos submitted the petition to the University Board of Elections independently in January.
The resolution passed with 12 votes in favor, no votes against and no abstentions.
Students can vote on the agenda until the voting period closes Friday at 4 p.m., either through a personalized link in their emails or on UBE’s website.
The next Student Council meeting will be held Tuesday, Mar. 15. The hybrid meeting will be held in person in the South Meeting Room in Newcomb Hall and online through Student Council’s