Third-year College student Gabrielle Bray succeeded Andy Chambers, outgoing chair and fourth-year College student, after internal Honor elections concluded during the Committee’s retreat in April. In an interview with The Cavalier Daily, Bray expressed hope that she would be able to work towards a multi-sanction system, restore trust in the Committee and establish more partnerships across Grounds.
When Bray first decided to attend the University, she already knew that Honor was something she wanted to participate in. Following the “Unite the Right” rally in August 2017, when white supremacists descended upon Charlottesville and the University for a rally that turned violent, Bray was concerned about what her college experience would hold. However, she found herself inspired by the power demonstrated in the response efforts of students and community members.
The day before the rally, a group of white supremacists marched down the Lawn and were met by a group of student counter protestors who encircled the Jefferson statue — many were injured by pepper spray or the protestors themselves that evening. In the days and months following the rally, students responded to the hate in a myriad of ways, including making demands to University administration and organizing protests.
“I was afraid and I watched the student response, and found it compelling and honorable,” Bray said.
Seeing that response, Bray said she felt that exposure to the University showed here there were students “willing to stand up for truth and honesty and integrity,” and knew that actions devoid of lying, cheating and stealing — the three Honor offenses at the University — were important to her own values when she witnessed the unhonorable actions of her peers in high school.
“It devalued my education because I was actually trying hard, and so few others were,” Bray said.
Upon arriving on Grounds in 2019, Bray became involved with the Honor system as an Honor investigator, where she acted as an impartial fact-finder in Committee proceedings. In her second year, Bray was elected as an Honor representative. She was elected vice-chair for hearings, meaning that she oversaw student cases and administered hearings and appeals throughout Chambers’ term.
“All the jobs along this path have been about preserving students’ rights and making sure that those rights are respected throughout the process and maintaining the integrity of the community of trust,” Bray said.
During student body elections last March, however, the Honor system Bray had known changed forever. Students voted to reduce the sanction for a guilty verdict from expulsion to a two-semester leave of absence. The Committee’s discussions throughout the fall were also marked by controversy and following elections, two Committee members resigned, citing “bad-faith” leadership.
In light of all of this internal turmoil, Bray hopes to “right the ship” and help the Committee return focus to improving the Honor system for students.
“I watched some unethical behavior,” Bray said. “I watched behavior I didn't agree with and I watched the Committee get bogged down in some personal and some political stuff that was largely worthless.”
Since Bray has assumed the role of chair, the Honor Committee passed three sets of by-laws — the first the eliminated a portion of the trial in hopes of shortening the process, the second clarified the difference in sanctions for a guilty verdict and admittance of guilt and the final allows members to join and vote in meetings virtually.
“The first big goal [was] something we're already actively working on and that's to get the Honor system functioning again to pass bylaws to match the referendum,” Bray said prior to Sunday’s meeting.
The Committee has also set its sights on a multi-sanction system and ways to encourage support and “buy-in” in the Committee following such a large overhaul to the system.
When asked about the biggest issue currently facing Honor at the University, Bray responded that there is a lack of trust in Honor from the community. Bray feels that the “buy-in” from students is weak because many do not know what the Committee does on a daily basis or how hearings — which are closed to the public to protect accused students’ privacy — are completed.
“We're supposed to be the guardians of the community of trust,” Bray said. “We need to help restore that trust in ourselves.”
Bray plans to tackle the issues of trust within the community through education and efforts to make Honor more visible around Grounds. Specifically, Bray aims to provide more education to students than just the current Honor module. The module teaches students about the basic structure of the Honor system and the offenses — lying, cheating and stealing — against the Honor Code. All first-year students are required to complete the module before they begin their time at the University.
“So one of my major goals for this year is just sort of increasing education and visibility around Grounds [so] people know who we are, what we do and how they can be engaged,” Bray said.
As a part of such efforts, Bray plans to set up “serious conversations” with faculty members, students and other stakeholders to facilitate conversations and provide a space for questions about how the Honor system functions and how it impacts members of the University community.
“We'll post some questions about the Honor system, and we want to hear what you think, and we want to hear how we can do better,” Bray said.
Additionally, Bray hopes to work more closely with student organizations by using the Honor endowment to support groups on Grounds. For the 2021-22 academic year, Honor had a total budget of $183,900, of which $15,000 went to co-sponsorship events and $5,000 went to general efforts to educate students about Honor.
Student organizations can apply for a co-sponsorship to receive programming funding from Honor. Goals for co-sponsorship include facilitating and improving relationships between Honor and student organizations around Grounds, increasing awareness of both the benefits of Honor and how to become involved in Honor, and fostering a “united Community of Trust.”
These relationships are mutually beneficial by helping Honor engage the community, spread awareness about the importance of integrity and support the shared values of students, according to Bray.
“We're looking to have more active partnerships,” Bray said. “So if you're funding an event, we would like to show up and get to know you, and you get to know us.”
During her time as chair, Bray plans to keep protecting the rights of students and holding her Committee members and students accountable.
“The path that led me here is a deep interest in the values of Honor, and making sure those are held to within Honor and just protecting students,” Bray said.