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I won the University’s great game. I drank the kool-aid and bought-in to the mysticism of student self-governance, secret societies, Lawn rooms and Thomas Jefferson. I excelled academically, locked-in the internships and won the leadership positions in student organizations — at times through less-than-admirable means. I’ve been “canceled” on Twitter — somehow from both the left and right — more times than I bother to remember. As a reward for all this, I got a Lawn room. So now, as a fourth-year in the twilight of my time on Grounds, what do I have to say?
The University released demographic data on the 2022-23 cohort of Lawn residents Feb. 11. An annual tradition, this data is intended to demonstrate the diversity of academic knowledge, extracurricular achievement and lived experiences present in the incoming cohort. This year’s data has some high points. 68 percent of offers went to women, a historically marginalized group at the University that didn’t achieve full coeducation until the 1970s. Similarly, just under 47 percent of offers went to students of color, a decrease from last year’s 60 percent but still a vast increase compared to previous years. Still, this data also reveals concerning and disappointing statistics regarding the representation of academic disciplines and University schools on the Lawn.
Last month, University officials notified students of a planned IT migration from Google Suite — including Gmail, Google Drive and Google Calendar — to Microsoft’s Office 365 platform — including OneDrive and Office Online. The transition is set to take place at the end of this academic year and was primarily justified with the fact that University faculty, staff and students will all be on the same platform. Currently, faculty and staff use Office 365 while students use Google. The migration came as a surprise — there was scant communication from the University prior to the formal announcement. As such, students were swift to reply with negative comments, including an online petition to stop the switch. Currently at about 5,300 signatures, the petition argues the current system is not broken and does not need fixing.
The University’s social media team has been hard at work over the last few months. From highlighting the new student organization Future Medical Professionals for Life at the Fall Activities Fair to praising Young Americans for Freedom at U.Va. for their annual 9/11 memorial, the University seems to be eager to grant these groups airtime. At first glance, nothing seems amiss — the University appears to be promoting student organizations and their activities on Grounds. Underneath the hood though, these two organizations are promoting extreme and — at times — violent views.
Roe v. Wade is no longer the law of the land. Texas Senate Bill 8 went into effect on Sept. 1 and functionally banned abortion in the state. A day later, the Supreme Court denied an emergency request from abortion providers to halt the law on the grounds that it violated Court precedents set in Roe and Casey. Staff at some Texas abortion clinics worked up until 11:56p.m. — four minutes before the law took effect — to provide as many patients with abortion care as possible. One report describes silent tears from patients and providers as the constitutional right to abortion guarateneed by Roe quielty slipped away in the dead of night.
In its Spring 2021 Newsletter, the Honor Committee reported that in the last 18 months it had received 99 total reports, 21 Conscientious Retractions and 48 Informed Retractions. Three students had been found guilty during hearings and were therefore permanently dismissed from the University. These statistics are abhorrent. At a time when our community faces unprecedented national crises, the Committee has continued to function without any consideration for broader contexts nor for the mental health and wellness of students. Combined with historical statistics on the Committee’s pervasive racial bias and socioeconomic inequity, this profound lack of consideration for the contemporary period demonstrates the inability of the Honor Committee to effectively serve our community.
Earlier this month, the Virginia General Assembly passed a final version of a bill to legalize recreational marijuana in the Commonwealth. While the original version of the bill set the legalization date in 2024, an amendment proposed by Governor Ralph Northam and approved by both chambers of the legislature moved the date up to July 1, 2021. The legislation is monumental — Virginia is the first state in the South to legalize recreational marijuana.
The COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged local economies across the country — especially in college towns. Small businesses have been forced to adapt to limits on in-person capacities and increases in online shopping. Dozens of businesses in Washington, D.C. neighborhoods, for example, have begun offering service outdoors in converted parking spaces or on pop-up patios. The sudden shift towards expanded outdoor spaces — often occupying roads and parking spaces — has exacerbated the already fierce debate over the role of car infrastructure in future urban development.
Late last month, the Inter-Sorority Council and Inter-Fraternity Council announced that a previous ban on in-person Greek Life gatherings would be reversed ahead of formal recruitment and bid day events. The IFC said that it will allow later rounds of recruitment and bid day events while the ISC will limit chapters to only hosting reduced capacity in-person bid days. Despite claims from the IFC president that “the Greek community stepped up huge [last] semester and showed that they were willing to sacrifice the parties” to protect public safety, the reversal of this policy will exacerbate the spread of COVID-19 and recklessly endanger our community.
The Virginia General Assembly is a part-time gig. Classified as a “hybrid system” by the National Conference of State Legislatures, the oldest democratic governing body in the Western Hemisphere only convenes for a month or two, depending on the numbered year. Most legislators have second jobs in their off-season, as the income from their legislative seat is not sufficient to cover a full year of living expenses.
Students across the political spectrum have lobbied the University administration for years to cancel classes on Election Day. Most recently, for the 2018 midterm elections, Student Council unanimously passed a resolution to urge faculty to not hold exams on Election Day. The organization also partnered with the University Democrats and College Republicans to circulate a pledge asking faculty to individually commit to this goal. This election cycle, Virginia has instituted a number of democratic reforms to make voting easier, including designating Election Day as a state holiday. Yet, the University has not cancelled classes or instituted a no-exam policy.
Living on the Lawn during your fourth year is widely recognized as one of the highest honors at the University. The Office of the Dean of Students — which administers the selections process — proclaims that it “recognizes students for unselfish service to the University and Charlottesville/Albemarle County communities, and achievement in their respective fields of activity and academics.” To live on the Lawn, students must submit an application to the 60-person Lawn Selection Committee, which then ranks all the applicants. The 47 top-ranked applicants are then selected as residents.
In recent months, movements to abolish Greek Life organizations on college campuses have sprung up across the country. Students at Vanderbilt University are dropping out of their Greek organizations by the hundreds and demanding chapters disaffiliate from their national offices. Some chapters at American University are voting to voluntarily disband, and the entire executive board of the University of Richmond Panhellenic Council has recently resigned. Even at the University, which has one of the oldest Greek Life systems in the country, abolishing both IFC and ISC Greek Life has begun to gain traction on social media. This movement is the culmination of decades of harm caused by Greek organizations.
The Board of Visitors is the University’s highest governing body, responsible for — among other things — approving capital projects, setting tuition and fees, and overseeing the University’s broad operations. It has 17 voting members who are appointed by the Governor of Virginia, and two non-voting members — a student representative and a faculty representative.
Student self-governance is at a watershed moment. Amid the fallout of the murder of George Floyd and ensuing global protests, many student organizations have been raising awareness for police brutality, collecting or matching donations for racial justice organizations and instituting internal reforms to increase equity in their ranks. Despite a swift and positive response from many organizations, other historically white and wealthy organizations have remained relatively silent or inactive. Given the context of the University’s history, such organizations have no choice but to be actively anti-racist and use their monetary and physical resources such as alumni networks, social media and educational materials to promote equity in society.
June 1 marks the annual start of pride — a month dedicated to the celebration of queer culture, consciousness raising for queer issues and a solemn remembrance for the thousands of lives lost to anti-queer violence around the world. Pride events around the country — parades, street festivals, benefit concerts and more — invoke memories of the Stonewall riots of June 1969, where Black trans women rioted against police brutality. These events create safe, welcoming spaces for queer people to express themselves.
The country is facing an unemployment crisis of unprecedented proportions. Rent strikes are gaining momentum in communities around the country, and students are pressuring the University to implement equitable responses with a petition and Student Council resolution. Amid the chaos, classist language in the Honor Committee’s definition of stealing is getting new attention. Landlords and property companies have begun to threaten to report students to Honor for failure to pay their rent — despite students losing wages, jobs and facing unparalleled changes to their daily lives. Student self-governance is being weaponized against students by outside forces — the Community of Trust is under threat, and Honor must defend it.
Last week, Viewpoint Writer Adam Grim published a column advocating for the Honor Committee’s removal of expulsion as a sanction for Honor offenses. Grim questions if and why expulsion is ever merited, and if the Informed Retraction actually does anything to preserve the University’s Community of Trust. The argument is plagued by a spectacular misunderstanding of the Honor Committee, its procedures and its sanctions. Grim mistakenly flattens the nuances of the system and misattributes blame for inequity in sanctions. Many — if not all — of the issues Grim cites can be traced back not to the consideration of expulsion as a sanction, but expulsion as the single sanction.
Two months ago, C-ville Weekly published a review of the University’s years-long response to the now-infamous Rolling Stone article of 2014. The article detailed the original Rolling Stone piece, the University’s short- and long-term responses, the cultural shifts on Grounds and current student concerns over work that has yet to be done. C-ville Weekly asks the question, “What has (or hasn’t) changed at UVA since Rolling Stone?” I have an answer — not enough.
Student self-governance — the right of students to govern their own academic affairs, adjudicate violations of our community values, enact change at the University and hold administrators accountable — is under threat. It’s been repeatedly violated by University administrators and has been called a sham and broadley dysfunctional by prominent student journalists.