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LETTER: Misunderstanding the Honor Committee’s mental health procedures

The Feb. 18 opinion article on the Committee’s mental health procedures argues for a policy which is ill-informed and unfeasible

<p>The Committee does not decide on cases involving contributory mental health conditions.</p>

The Committee does not decide on cases involving contributory mental health conditions.

Feb. 18, The Cavalier Daily published an opinion article arguing that the Honor Committee ought to focus more on the mental health of accused students. As members of the Committee, we commend this article’s intention. However, the article is based on a faulty understanding of the Committee’s existing procedures. The Contributory Health Impairment, to which the column refers, is not litigated at an Honor hearing, so making mental health assessments opt-out as a part of the hearing procedure is fundamentally unfeasible and will needlessly add months to the already-long case processing timeline. Therefore, we strongly disagree with the solution proposed in the column and believe that mental health evaluations should not be made opt-out. 

Ultimately, the article relies on the dangerous assumption that Honor offenses are committed primarily by students with underlying mental health conditions, an assumption which is used to argue that CHI should be opt-out instead of opt-in. In reality, students with CHIs are a small minority of those reported. Therefore, by taking the stance that assessments should be opt-out, the article problematically assumes that students with mental illness are more likely to commit Honor offenses as a direct result of their mental illness. This framing denies students with mental illness their autonomy and is untrue.

Additionally, the article neglects the actual process through which mental health evaluations are undertaken. Importantly, the Committee does not decide on cases involving contributory mental health conditions. For those cases, the Committee and the Office of the Dean of Students developed the CHI procedures which begin at a student’s request. The case is then heard by a panel of three experts — often a combination of psychologists, psychiatrists and lawyers — who all decide if the student has a CHI, in which case the Honor case is dismissed. If the student does not have a CHI, the Honor case resumes. These procedures ensure that a qualified expert panel, not the Honor Committee, are evaluating the mental health of students and make an opt-out system unrealistic.

Despite our disagreements with the article, we strongly recommend that the Committee prioritizes students’ mental health. One possible change which we endorse is to make all reported students aware of the University’s mental health resources, particularly Care and Support Services. We recognize that the Honor process can be stressful and that any student may benefit from support, regardless of an underlying health condition. On our path towards a more equitable and compassionate system, the Committee must implement policies that actually support every student. 

Alexander Church is an Honor Representative from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Seamus Oliver is a Senior Advisor in the College of Arts and Sciences. 


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