“I have tried to live my life with honesty, with integrity…I have never shied away from who I am.”
Words by Gracie Kreth.
Dean of Students Allen Groves has always believed in free speech. But when a group of white nationalists marched with through Grounds with torches and yelled anti-Semitic chants on the evening of Aug. 11, his belief in the right of free speech collided with his job as dean.
Groves was at home that Friday when he heard that the group of neo-Nazis would be marching on the Lawn. A far-right white nationalist rally was scheduled the next day, ostensibly to protest the Charlottesville City Council’s decision to remove the Robert E. Lee statue from Emancipation Park (formerly known as Lee Park). However, the plans to march through central Grounds came as a surprise to the University administration.
When he heard of the plans, he left his home in southern Albemarle County and arrived on Grounds to learn that University students had surrounded Thomas Jefferson statue north of the Rotunda.
“I went into the crowd of white supremacists,” Groves said, as he began recounting the event of Aug. 11 in an interview with The Cavalier Daily. “I leaned in [to the students] and said, ‘It’s Dean Groves. It’s Dean Groves. Let me get you out of here.’”
The police had not arrived yet, so Groves rushed into the crowd to reach the students.
“Next thing I knew, one of the white supremacists threw one of the torches,” Groves said. “It hit me in the arm, and it cut my arm, and the flaming part fell to the ground … Within seconds, they started attacking several of the people around the statue.”
Pulling students out from the crowd, Groves and several others were maced in the chaos that erupted. Several others were injured during the protest as well.
Groves said he is a strong proponent of individual rights and freedom of speech. As questions arise about the limitations of the First Amendment on college campuses, Groves has been a fairly outspoken member of the community. He recently gave a lecture about “The Balance Between Free Speech and Bias” to the Kappa Rho Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority. “We are at a stage right now in this country where across the spectrum, people do not want to listen to views that oppose their own way of thinking,” Groves told The Cavalier Daily. “And so with social media being what it is, you and I can only follow those people or website that we agree with and not anybody that we don’t. I think that is highly dangerous.”
He cautions students to be careful about suppressing speech at a time when society might be angry, afraid or frustrated because that may come back to haunt them. He encourages students to listen to speakers with opposing viewpoints and instead of shouting them down, he challenges students to ask tough questions.
“The reason we allow speech we deem hateful is to protect our rights to protest and freely speak out on controversial topics of the time,” Groves said. “Once we carve away at that core freedom, we may not like how much is swept into the category of banned ‘hateful’ speech.”
However, in the case of the events of Aug. 11 and 12 in Charlottesville, Groves said not all speech was protected.
“[The First Amendment] does not permit speech that qualifies as ‘incitement’ to commit imminent acts of violence,” Groves said in an email. “I believe certain speech by the alt-right/white nationalists on August 11 was hateful speech that is nonetheless protected by the Constitution, while other speech that night was likely incitement that is not protected speech. I also believe the use of torches in the context presented on August 11 was impermissible. Moreover, violence is not speech.”
As Groves enters his 11th year working in administration at the University, he has worked continually to protect students’ speech, especially helping raise the volume of minority voices around Grounds.
He believes in everybody’s right to be who they are and be respected for who they are,” Groves’ sister Tammie Collins said.
Groves said he has made it a goal of his time at the University to make sure every student has equal access and equal opportunity, and believes that some groups need more help than others to be heard.
“To be different in any society culturally is difficult,” Groves said. “It is easier to be white in this country than it is to be black. I have always viewed that there are probably groups of student who more need my support and intervention than others.”
Jack Chellman, a fourth-year College student and former Queer Student Union president, says Groves — who identifies as a gay man — has been involved with the LGBTQ community on Grounds.
“He always comes to the first meeting of the year, welcoming our new members and extending an invite to his office if someone were to need anything or any kind of support,” Chellman said. “He has made real contributions to the minority community.”
Groves said that changing the perception of his office from a scary place of punishment to a place where students feel comfortable to come to talk and seek support is his greatest achievement during his tenure as dean.
“By doing that, especially when you think about underserved populations and minority organizations, by being visible and talking with students and engaging with them, I think that’s the way create that sort of space,” Groves said. “It was not that way when I came into the position.”
Groves reached for a sheet of paper on his desk, a printout of a Google calendar. The itinerary showed meetings with students all day.
“Whenever a student invites me, I go,” Groves said. “Sometimes I’ll schedule myself for three dinners.”
But that day in particular was unusual, he said. Typically, he will have more meetings with administration, so that was a good day — the interaction with students is what Groves values and enjoys the most about his job.
“Whether it’s one on one or in groups, I love being able to engage with students and talk with students and hear about their experience and do what I can to help make this important part of their lives as valuable and as meaningful as it can be,” Groves said. “That’s the best part of the job.”
Groves said he wants to hear what students have to say and wants to support them in all the ways he is able.
“Individuals should have the right to express their own political and social views.” Groves said. “I would fully support the right of every student to take whatever position they believe. It is their right to express strongly-held views as long as it does not harm other people.”
Ironically, Groves says the most challenging aspect of his position is that he is not always free to speak his mind. Due to the high-ranking position he holds at a state university, Groves’ own freedom of speech is somewhat restricted. He cannot enjoy the same flexibility as most people, and is often forced to decline a handful of interviews or to make a statement.
Leaning back into his chair and folding his hands, he began reflecting on what’s brought him to Charlottesville and the University.
Groves was born in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. in 1960. During his senior year of high school, his father died unexpectedly from a heart attack. He attended Stetson College in DeLand, Fla. for his undergraduate degree because it was close to home, making it easy for him to check on his mom, he said. While there, Groves joined the Phi Kappa Alpha fraternity.
“When it’s done right, it can be a truly great experience for a young man,” Groves said. “Especially given the recent death of my father when I went to college, the older brothers in the fraternity played an important role in helping me get through that.”
He attended law school at the University and worked as the area housing coordinator for what was at the time the new dorms on Grounds. After graduation, Groves moved to Atlanta and joined a large law firm, Seyfarth Shaw, where he worked for 16 years and became a partner.
As an attorney, Groves worked in employment law, specifically dealing with trade secret disputes. Similar to his current position at the University, he mentored younger lawyers, helping them to decided what path they wanted to take in their own law careers.
“He gave me really good advice that I give to younger lawyers [now] when they are trying to specialize,” said Michael Elkon, one of Groves’ mentees. “He had everything at this big law firm, but he wanted something more and to make a decision [to leave the legal profession] takes guts and confidence. I respect the hell out of that.”
Nonetheless, Elkon said academica suits Groves a bit better. Litigation takes what Elkon called “fangs,” and although he said Groves had “fangs,” he didn’t like to employ them.
Groves and his husband, Adam Donovan-Groves, moved to Charlottesville in 2006. Groves became the development officer for the Division of Student Affairs at the University, and continued to work in this position as he became interim dean of students. In June 2008, he became the University’s associate vice president and dean of students.
Donovan-Groves began a wedding planning business, Donovan-Groves Events, for which he is acclaimed by both Vogue and Southern Living.
Groves said the University has welcomed them as it would any heterosexual couple, even before the two were legally allowed to marry. However, when asked about how he feels the University has treated them as a gay couple, Donovan-Groves said “mostly welcome,” followed by a long pause — he declined to elaborate on any specific issues.
Nonetheless, both say they love the University and the greater Charlottesville area. They enjoy going to the Blue Ridge Mountains and to vineyards, and often take their older, adopted dog Gracie on these excursions.
“U.Va. wasn’t my school, but I have come to love it,” Donovan-Groves said. “Allen is very happy here, and that makes me very happy.”
Groves said he is open about who he is and what he believes, and he works to help and protect others to do the same as they voice their beliefs.
“I have tried to live my life with honesty, with integrity,” Groves said. “I have never shied away from who I am.”
These are qualities Donovan-Groves said are Groves’ best, and Groves’ sister agreed.
“I want people to understand how much he cares,” Collins said. “It’s not an act — that’s who he is. He loves U.Va., and he loves his students.”
The life of former U.Va. president John Casteen III
Words by Maggie Servais. Photos by Charlotte McClintock.
From the round table in the corner of his third floor Alderman office, President Emeritus John Casteen III was finishing typing an email. Bookshelves built into the wall behind him and around the room were lined with perfectly-arranged books — part of a roughly 200 year-old family collection. Their faded bindings complemented the antique furnishings of the room — a fireplace with a portrait of a woman in Victorian dress hanging above the mantel, a standing globe beside one of the paned windows, a dark, hardwood wardrobe on one wall.
“It’s close to the Lawn, the Rotunda, you can take a stroll if you want to get away,” Casteen said. “It has this spectacular view … You can’t see it, but Lewis Mountain is over there.”
A triple Wahoo — earning his B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. from the University — and a professor of English, former Dean of Admissions and former president of the University, Casteen has spent more than 40 years as a part of the University and Charlottesville community.
At some point in our conversation, Casteen paused to comment on the camera our photographer, Charlotte, was using to capture candids as we spoke. He just bought a full frame camera himself.
“What I found hard about learning to use a camera is learning to expose your light in one part of the screen and to split the images,” Casteen said. “The business of composing a photograph … and working with the off-center subject so that the audience looks over the subject’s shoulder toward something else.”
In a way, Casteen played that off-center figure in the picture of the University for 20 years while serving as the seventh president. Now, the focus has shifted, and he is looking at the legacy he left behind.
As president, Casteen championed affordability, the increased enrollment of women and minority students and the physical growth of the University. In 2003, he initiated the creation of AccessUVA, the University’s financial aid program.
Casteen retired from the presidency in 2010, but remained at the University as a professor of English. In the seven years since he was president, Casteen said he finds himself in a uniquely different position — one of continued responsibility, but with new perspectives and freedom.
“The schedule is rarely so crowded that I can’t do the things I want to do,” Casteen said. “I get to go to more … events because I don’t have conflicts.”
A number of Casteen’s colleagues, all of whom were at the University at some point during his presidency, if not the full 20 years, said they consider Casteen a peer professionally, and a friend personally.
Politics Prof. Larry Sabato, who also serves as the director of the Center for Politics, joined the University faculty in 1978 — a few years after Casteen returned from teaching at the University of California, Berkeley to become dean of admissions. Sabato has been at the University for Casteen’s transition to and from the presidency, and has worked alongside him through the years.
“John was president for an extraordinarily long time,” Sabato said. “Twenty years is a difficult, lengthy period of time to be president of a major university and he managed to keep his balance and to keep the enemies at bay, internally and externally. He was a survivor.”
Sabato said he has identified with Casteen on not only a professional and academic level, but also on a personal level, as both men came from blue collar towns in Southern, coastal Virginia and were the first in their family to attend college.
“I think we always were simpatico for reasons of background and interest in the University of Virginia,” Sabato said.
These days, Sabato doesn’t see Casteen very often. He joked that the reason for their infrequent encounters is the nature of his role as director of the Center for Politics. “I think John had more than enough politics while he was president,” Sabato said.
Sabato has plenty of obligations on Grounds, however, he wouldn’t compare his duties to those of a sitting president.
“When you add on public duties, you find that those public duties comprise a jealous mistress and they can absorb all of your time if you let them, and you have to fight against that,” Sabato said. “As director of the Center for Politics, I can do that successfully. As president, you really can’t. You’re called away constantly, from this dispute and that crisis and it’s a very very stressful job so I would in no way compare what I’m doing to what John did.”
Architecture Department Chair William Sherman worked closely with Casteen while he was president in designing additions to Campbell Hall in the School of Architecture. He said Casteen was fully supportive of the project and allowed faculty to design the additions.
Sherman now works alongside Casteen, who teaches a course entitled “The Idea of Venice” in the Architecture School. Sherman said the change from working under Casteen as president to beside him as a fellow professor hasn’t changed the dynamic of their relationship — it was always one of equal regard toward one another.
“It’s part of his personality to not treat people like they’re underlings,” Sherman said. “I would say our relationship hasn’t changed substantially because it was always grounded on a level of mutual respect and curiosity and interest about the issues that we would be discussing or would be working with.” Dean of Admissions Greg Roberts now holds the post Casteen held more than 20 years ago. Roberts worked as an associate dean of admissions while Casteen was president but did not become dean of admissions until 2009, one year before Casteen stepped down.
“The relationship between the admission office and the president is quite different from the one that exists between the Dean of Admission and a former president or faculty member,” Roberts said. “It’s more of a collegial and a friendship now, it was more of a working relationship then.”
Roberts stays in touch with Casteen on an informal level — saying “hi” in passing on Grounds or grabbing lunch and talking not only about the University and admissions but their families and personal lives, as friends.
When Casteen concluded his time as president, he decided to take advantage of the sabbatic leave time he had yet to use. He traveled to Europe a few times and visited his home in Maine with his wife.
“I took an extended leave largely for the purpose of thinking through what I was doing,” Casteen said. “I don’t remember how old I was but I was young enough that I was thinking ‘Okay, there’s another chapter.’”
Casteen found inspiration for the next chapter by reading. He searched the English Department’s course list for classes not taught every semester that he could cover. As it turned out, the dean of the School of Architecture needed a course on the cultural context of Venice.
Casteen, whose academic appointment is not tied to a specific department, took on the course — “The Idea of Venice”. Casteen still teaches it in the spring.
“The Idea of Venice” is sometimes listed in both the English Department and the School of Architecture (this year it is under class code SARC), drawing on an interdisciplinary core Casteen long strove to create at the University.
“I was always frustrated when I was president or dean by the difficulty of getting … people to operate in more than one way at a time,” Casteen said. “We struggled with how to get interdisciplinary to develop here. We’re so siloed, focused, yet we live within different units.”
According to Casteen, the Venice course fluctuates in enrollment each year. One year he only had one student — a graduate student working on her thesis. Other years he’s had sections divided between architecture students and students in the College.
“The students in the College have been quite a mix,” Casteen said. “Physics majors, I’ve had a couple students from the McIntire School, undergraduates who hadn’t declared majors. And the architects are, generally speaking, are either design majors or architectural history majors.”
Sherman identified Casteen’s longheld appreciation for architecture years ago, it was something they discussed while Casteen was president. Sherman was fascinated, though not surprised, that Casteen, an English professor, decided to teach a nontraditional course in the School of Architecture.
“John Casteen has had a very deep interest in Venice and the culture of Venice over the years,” Sherman said. “Well he’s had a longstanding interest in architecture … It’s an area that both as a university president at a university where the architecture is a central part of its identity but also just personally an interest in space and design.”
Returning to teaching also brought Casteen back to his academic roots — English and literature.
“I was able to teach Old English, Anglo-Saxon English, which I did as a graduate student,” Casteen said. “My dissertation was some kind of Anglo-Saxon topic. So that was something that I really [wanted to] be able to do.”
He also teaches courses on old Icelandic literature. Books on the lowermost bookshelves in Casteen’s office — the ones devoted to his personal collection — show his growing interest in the field. Titles include “The Sagas of Icelanders,” “Old Norse-Icelandic Literature” and “Song of the Vikings” — not to mention those written in Icelandic.
Casteen’s collection of Icelanding literature
“That stuff is spectacular,” Casteen said. “There’s so many things in that body of literature that differ from anything else in the Middle Ages that it’s a constant challenge and it’s always fun.”
Sabato spoke to the transition from an administrative position back into the role of a professor and the automatic draw of returning to one’s academic background.
“When you leave that administrative office and you take up a chaired professorship … you renew your interest in scholarship,” Sabato said. “You never abandon your roots, your root as an academic at any university, teaching and research, that’s a constant.” The University announced President Teresa Sullivan will also become a professor after stepping down as president next summer. She plans to rejoin the University faculty after a research leave.
In resuming a role as a professor, Casteen has also taken on the responsibility of academic advising. Casteen has a number of advisees, allowing him to maintain a unique relationship with students he was unable to develop as president.
“I’ve enjoyed the advising very much,” Casteen said. “You realize that you have to get it right, which is to say you have to match up what the student perceives as her or his needs with the University’s resources.”
While still a professor and faculty member, the structure of Casteen’s life has changed drastically compared to when he was president.
So what does the daily life of a former president of a major university look like?
As one might guess, the time commitments are fewer and the schedule is much looser. Casteen said he is able to visit his home in Maine more frequently and designate time to do things he truly wants to do.
“I can decline things that I feel as though are not really what I want to do,” Casteen said.
Not quite a townie, but no longer the living face of the University, Casteen has taken advantage of a more inconspicuous existence by frequenting the Downtown Mall with his wife.
“We’ve been able to walk around, look in windows, see our friends and so on,” Casteen said. “That sort of thing is difficult to do when you’re president because of time pressure. You feel as though you’re creating some kind of disruption when you walk into a place.”
Now, Casteen finds he can walk down Market Street like any other resident of Charlottesville. In an air of jest, he summarized the ease with which he now can appear in public.
“You wear a dirty t-shirt and sit in one of those chairs and enjoy the Mall,” Casteen said. “We wouldn’t have done that 10 years ago.”
With a more liberal schedule, Casteen has found the time to consider issues that have long since interested him. One focus of Casteen’s is bolstering the University’s club and intramural sports programs as well as addressing the gap between varsity athletes wanting to play professionally and the statistical likelihood of going pro.
“We make the claim in college and universities that we have our collegiate sports because they are valuable for personal development,” Casteen said. “The question that I think we have to deal with here is something about whether in fact the personal value is what we say it is.”
Casteen believes athletic programs need to add value to an athlete’s experience in ways beyond athletic skill to make up for the low odds of continuing to play the sport out of college.
“If there’s instructional value or value in terms of maturity or personal fulfillment and being part of a team and learning how to manage something about a term sport at that level, we’re leaving something on the table,” Casteen said.
Casteen is also concerned with the future of libraries in the modern age and how technology is transforming books to virtual texts rather than physical objects. Casteen motioned toward the impressive collection of books filling the nearly ceiling-high bookshelves around the room.
“This collection is here because of books as objects, it’s not mine, it belongs to the library,” Casteen said. “How do you maintain this kind of engagement … if [a] library consists of five discs?”
Sullivan appointed Casteen to chair the search for the new director of the University library system last year. The responsibility exposed Casteen to the many untraditional issues that face libraries today.
“We have a long history here of studying books themselves as objects, it’s really a complicated and important piece of scholarship,” Casteen said. “How do you sustain that?”
Casteen has not put aside his passion for increasing access to the University through financial aid. The issue is particularly close to Casteen — he worked various jobs to pay his way through college in addition to receiving scholarship money.
Casteen has seen, what he considers, a drastic decline in federal financial aid for students. The historic model, Casteen said, divides financial aid into thirds, with one third of funding provided by the state, one third by the federal government and one third covered by student-earned wages.
At one point, Casteen worked on the production line of a frozen food factory in Crozet, a job that paid $1.29 an hour. His wages plus scholarship money were generally sufficient in covering his expenses for the year. Now, he observes students struggling to pay for their education, even while working or receiving scholarship money.
“There are a lot of people here that have to budget many many times [what I did] and I’ve been surprised by the number of students who are not making the minimum wage,” Casteen said.
I asked Casteen what his relationship with his predecessors was like while he was president. Casteen is fond of Robert O’Neil who was president before him from 1985-90. Casteen was also close to Colgate Darden, who was president of the University from 1947-59, Edgar Shannon, president from 1959-74 and Frank Hereford, president from 1974-85. Darden, Shannon and Hereford have since passed away.
Casteen says he views O’Neil as a friend and admires him for his fairness and rationality as well as his work as an advisor to national educational organizations.
While Casteen was president, he said he saw O’Neil occasionally in social settings and said Shannon and Hereford spoke with him briefly about being president though they were never intrusive.
Casteen also said he had a few conversations with Darden. Darden was significantly older than Casteen, though Casteen admired him for his accomplishments and wisdom.
“[Darden] was a remarkably intelligent guy,” Casteen said. “He read the political landscape with a kind of certainty that just comes with being 85 years old.”
Casteen also looked up to Shannon, who served as a source of for advice if he sought it.
“Edgar Shannon was a very fine academic,” Casteen said. “He had a great scholarly mind. I talked more with his wife Eleanor than with him because she really wanted to talk. He would talk when I asked him for something.”
Hereford Residential College was completed during Casteen’s presidency. Hereford himself remained a friend of Casteen’s and a sympathetic advisor.
“Frank in particular was … very protective,” Casteen said. “He knew that it’s difficult to be in charge, that the responsibilities don’t go to somebody else, that you have to deal with the issues as they arise, don’t forget them, take care of them now.”
Now, as president emeritus, Casteen is in the position O’Neil, Shannon, Hereford and Darden were before him with respect to his relationship with Sullivan. Casteen said he is supportive of Sullivan but realizes she is fully capable without his assistance.
“We talk sometimes, but she doesn’t need my advice,” Casteen said. “She’s got a remarkably clear and well-rounded view of what needs to be done.”
Casteen characterized his relationship with Sullivan as one similar to that he had with O’Neil — a nonjudgmental type of friendship. “It’s a pleasant kind of relationship to have, applauding someone else’s successes,” Casteen said. “Or to [focus] on something that’s not
With the end of Sullivan’s presidency next summer, Casteen said he and his wife are eager to share their experience living in Charlottesville after the position.
“My wife and I are sort of interested in passing along to President Sullivan and her husband some of the things that we discovered about living in Charlottesville,” Casteen said. “Of course [I] haven’t had a chance to do it yet, but when the chance comes, I’ll tell her what I think.”
Casteen has experienced the University from nearly every perspective possible — as an undergraduate, graduate and Ph.D. student, as a professor, as Dean of admissions and as the top-most eye, the president. Each of these roles were divided by years of transition, either at other institutions or in other offices work, but each time Casteen has returned to the University.
What is the gravity of Grounds that keeps bringing him back?
The answer is not as simple as an apple falling from a tree — there were different reasons each time, Casteen said.
“The reason of my accepting something that was proposed or offered, certainly had to do with the attachment to the place, to the region,” Casteen said.
A further driving point was the critical age in which Casteen first attended the University and later when he began to work here — a time of growth, change and controversial but critical progress.
“I was convinced in the late ‘60s that … coeducation and desegregation were the essential steps toward being a significant national University,” Casteen said. “I think you could argue that prior to those events, we were not that. But our history since about 1970, has to do with an increasingly diverse population, with measures of accomplishment that are far more rigorous than anything we had prior to about 1970.”
The University Casteen attended in the 1960s is drastically different from the one he led into the 21st century and still different from the University he watches grow and develop every day.
Casteen looked at his Alderman office — a quiet space tucked between the Journals and Newspapers room and the Shanti room in the East Wing.
“The room was an idle space,” Casteen said. “They were trying to figure out where to put me.”
The space has not been vacant now for seven years. A framed poster commemorating the 25-year anniversary of the Rare Book School hangs on the wall behind Casteen, a November 2007 Commonwealth Cup football trophy engraved with his name rests on one of the lower shelves. Casteen has fully embraced the space, just as he has filled his unique role in the time after his presidency.
Finding a comfortable space as a second generation student
Words by Leo Dominguez.
I’ve known Akash Raje for three years. We lived in the same first year dorm at the University of Virginia. For at least the first few weeks of school, we were part of the same sparse collective of nervous 18 year olds, bound only by our mutual fear of eating alone. Even in this throng of kids slowly workshopping their college personalities and working new colloquialisms into their vocabulary, Akash looked comfortable. A brown boy with a large pair of headphones draped around his neck, an easy smile and an encyclopedic knowledge of hip-hop. He personified the casual and cool personality that the rest of us were still working hard to cultivate.
Akash was born in Detroit, Mich. in 1997 to Kshitija and Salil, who came to the United States from Mumbai, India in 1987 and 1991, respectively. They arrived at different times, but both with the explicit intention of establishing a solid foundation for their eventual children and the families they left behind. Though both had been living in Mumbai just prior to immigrating, they did not meet until a mutual friend arranged their introduction, kicking off a short romance followed by marriage in 1995, and, subsequently, Akash.
Akash has visited the family his parents left behind in India four times in his life. The first trip, at 3 years old, is just a vague assemblage of sights, sounds and smells, warmed by the natural optimism of youth. The second time, at 8 years old, is much more firmly embedded in his memory. It annoyed him. He was brought along to be introduced to family members who had heard tell of their American cousin but had never known him. However, even in the wash of love from wave after wave of extended family, young Akash wanted nothing more than to go home to Michigan. He arrived in Mumbai in the middle of monsoon season to scores of family members speaking Marathi: his family language; one that he understood but didn’t like to speak. In fact, he made a concerted effort to speak English.
“I knew the language, but I wasn’t confident in speaking, and I didn’t like it. I didn’t even make an effort because I wanted to be more American,” Akash said.
The entire trip had the same embarrassing feel as a mother planting a wet kiss on the cheek of her child in front of his friends. Akash’s indelible Indian heritage was a constant source of embarrassment in the states. The sense of exasperation when his mother and father drew looks speaking Marathi in public was multiplied tenfold when surrounded by his family members in his parent’s homeland. There, it was impossible to shy away from the overt markers of his Indian heritage.
Visiting again four years later at 12 years old, the discomfort remained. Far from the home India should have been, it was an inconvenience. It was a necessary pit stop to appease his parent’s sentimentality and his extended family’s seemingly inexplicable yearning to see him.
This discomfort, even while surrounded by blood relatives who cared for him as though he had lived his entire life amongst them, is paramount to understanding the first generation American’s hybrid identity. At eight or 12 years old, to willingly “other” oneself is dangerous. This is especially true for a boy whose family, language and customs do not resemble those of his peers. Akash and young people like him aren’t one thing or the other, but rather a continual balancing act between finding a comfortable place in American spaces while also maintaining their parents’ cultural identity, inherently at odds with it.
It took eight years for Akash to return to India of his own volition. He was 20 years old and two years into his education at the University of Virginia. The university in Charlottesville dominates the town as a contemporary tribute to the aesthetic ideals of the gleaming South.
Broadly stated, the University is nearly 60 percent white, and almost half of the student body comes from families in the top 10 percent of income earners. In this landscape, Akash found himself sharing a freshman dorm hall with two other Indian students who spoke Marathi. There was solidarity in identity for Akash at the University. The Indian Student Association is one of the largest cultural organizations on campus and, of minority groups at the University, Asian-Americans have the largest population at 13 percent. The comfort of this community, however, was not enough for the self-actualization of his Indian identity.
The connection to the culture is limited to the Indian-American population … I wanted to define what it meant to be Indian. I wanted to meet my family,” Akash said. “The way I was able to be there is a way I’m not able to be here.”
Akash spent a few weeks of his summer in Shrivardhan, a small coastal city in the west Indian state of Maharashtra. This small fishing town, home to his mother’s family, rises in stark contrast with Charlottesville, the place he had called home for the last two years. In Shrivardhan, every view was colored by a cousin’s smile, every conversation crackled in his mother’s tongue and every step was taken alongside a brown-skinned compatriot, a hypothetical Akash analogue who had never left the coast. Far from awkwardness or exasperation at how unabashedly Indian the entire experience was, Akash found himself in a new, comfortable place.
He was picked up at the airport by his aunt, a woman he already knew well, and driven into Shrivardhan. During his stay in the city, he was constantly visiting and being introduced to distant and often non-blood related aunts or uncles with whom he had no real connection. The sheer number and ephemeral nature of these interactions left Akash initially awash in a whirlwind of names and faces, each one fading from memory as another smile shifted in to replace it.
Not all of his time in India was devoted to small talk. He attended a reunion of his maternal extended family. There, he found a vibrant patchwork of similar faces, the room emanating with a warmth that came as much from the number of people as from the sheer force of love. It was nearly every single member of his mother’s extended family, from rambunctious three year olds to the stoic, pensive grandparents and great-grandparents. Each one grinning broadly at the sight of their American cousin, saying hello in the Marathi that Akash now spoke with confidence. It was if they’d been waiting for him and had always been waiting for him.
“I was astonished and amazed by the unique lives that everyone lives and the fact that this is my family and this could have been my life as well,” Akash said. “It was just me putting my best effort to know them and understand them. In the short period of time I was with them I tried my best to just be with them.”
“I definitely grew up wishing I was a white kid.”
Until that point, Akash’s ways of expressing his culture were limited to his own imagination of what such expression would look like. His current love for hip-hop, developed in his early teens, grew out of a need to define his identity.
“I did certainly see it that way, I think the identity was developed more as the non-white identity, so it allowed me to feel my non-whiteness, my browness,” Akash said.
Though the art and the music he co-opted couldn’t be tracked back to his actual heritage, it was at least a departure from the norm of whiteness that he had been navigating most of his life. During this trip, the tension between his actual sense of self and the one he thought he was supposed to have disappeared. In his youth, Akash didn’t think of overtly Indian features as something to be proud of, and that manifested itself in his romantic relationships.
He didn’t like Indian girls.
“I definitely grew up wishing I was a white kid,” Akash said.
In his early years of high school, Akash learned to value the comfort that comes from developing relationships with individuals whose backgrounds are similar to his own. However, that pragmatic valuation of an intra-cultural relationship was shattered in the room full of Akash’s family members. Indian women were beautiful, Indian men were beautiful and everything about them: the way they moved, the way they spoke, and the way they laughed was cause for reverence.
His vague feelings of guilt for not fully appreciating his parent’s cultural gifts were replaced by a new sense of obligation. An obligation to spread his self-understanding wherever he goes.
“It’s something I think of as a responsibility to myself and my family and my culture for that matter. And to even this country, I’d be doing the country a service,” Akash said.
Akash will remain an all-American. Detroit raised him and Charlottesville matured him. He’ll converse with his closest friends in English. He’ll watch the NBA. He’ll soon receive a diploma bearing the name of the first American colony. At every turning point, the part of him that resides in Shrivardhan will be in attendance, guiding him and reminding him.
In Charlottesville’s intensifying housing market, some are turned to homelessness
Words by Jane Diamond. Photos by Ryan Jones.
Beneath a highway bridge, in the warm current of the Rivanna River, a photographer named Ryan introduced me to a couple and their dog, cooling off on a humid July day. Music pulsed from a Bluetooth speaker, and the couple — named Rabbit and Chris — talked and joked with one another, enjoying the otherwise quiet area. The silence was disturbed only by the whir of cars cruising dozens of feet above.
“I was walking and then lost my balance, like a peg-legged t-rex with a bad case of termites,” Rabbit said, pointing to a bruise and several scratches on her leg.
Rabbit, with a hearty laugh and a penchant for whip-smart metaphors, was describing a spill she had taken on the Fourth of July.
Chris looked on, bolstering Rabbit’s story with encouraging “uh-huhs” and “yeahs.” He’s a construction worker, muscular and excited about his job. She makes jewelry and sells it on the Downtown Mall.
“That one’s aquamarine, that one’s New Mexico river rock,” Rabbit said, pointing to pictures of her handmade jewelry on her phone. “And that’s tiger’s eye with river rock.”
Rabbit and Chris moved to Charlottesville in January, making the drive from New Mexico in their white hatchback. They’ve lived here before, four years ago, but this time Rabbit and Chris are facing a struggle they didn’t have last time. They’re homeless.
“The dog’s loving it here ‘cause he’s been sitting in the tent with me in this damn hundred degree weather,” she said.
Rabbit noted the reprieve their pit bull-English mastiff dog, named Oden, felt in the Rivanna. Their cat, Loki, had stayed at their campsite.
Just as Rabbit and Chris are protective of their pets, so too they plainly look out for one another. They’re a permanent family unit, although their backgrounds link them to their own tangled histories, peppered with jobs lost or brushes with the law. Each has family members from whom they’ve been estranged at certain points in their lives.
Each is also quick to smile when talking about the other.
Rabbit, with commanding eye contact and her hair shorn above her ears, beamed at her companion when she said, “My grandfather never got to meet him, but of all the guys I’ve ever dated, I think this one is the only one he would’ve approved of.”
Chris, kindly and bashfully in gym shorts and a sleeveless shirt, beamed back. Oden splashed in the water some more, as if he never wanted to leave.
Rabbit and Chris have been looking for housing in the Charlottesville area for months. Unable to secure housing, the two have been setting up campsites wherever they can. In their case, several obstacles stood in the way. Passing background checks and finding a home that allowed Oden to stay were two such barriers, but it’s clear that Charlottesville’s housing market faces larger pressures that make finding a home here difficult.
Charlottesville’s housing market continues to intensify in terms of sales. According to the Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors, the short- and long-term trends of the local housing market are in line, pointing toward increases in sales and price and decreases in inventory of homes and days on market until sale.
In July, CAAR released this year’s second quarter sales.
“The Greater Charlottesville area continues to move at a rapid pace,” CAAR President Anthony McGhee said in a press release. “Five out of six localities showed a higher median sales price this quarter compared to last year… In addition, all six localities showed a decline in median days on the market – Greene, City of Charlottesville, and Fluvanna saw a 38% decrease or more.”
The major factor in the local housing market’s trends is low inventory.
In April, May and June, the City of Charlottesville saw a 26.8 percent decrease in inventory of single-family detached homes for sale and a 7.3 percent decrease for single-family attached homes (i.e. homes with shared walls, such as apartments).
While there was an overall higher percentage of sales this spring, “buyers continue to be challenged with low inventory in our area,” CAAR President-Elect Arleen Yobs said in a press release.
The construction process can be long, so new buildings don’t make up for shrinking inventory. Whether one is buying, renting or trying to secure public housing, low inventory can lead to hiked-up prices and other roadblocks, according to the CAAR.
The demand for student housing has resulted in Charlottesville’s added squeeze in available rental properties, and off-Grounds housing hasn’t been alone in seeing higher demand. In 2012, the University hired a private firm to assess the state of student housing.
The project team found an unmet undergraduate student demand for on-Grounds housing. In a Feb. 2016 presentation to the Board of Visitors, they reported that while 100 percent of first-year students and 43 percent of second-year students lived on-Grounds, only 14 percent of third-year students and 8 percent of fourth-year students did.
The firm recommended capturing the unmet demand and building an apartment building close to Grounds.
The University is doing just that — a new upperclassmen residence hall is projected to open adjacent to Bice House in fall 2019. The residential building, which will house 312 beds, is the first step of the University’s Brandon Ave. Master Plan, a major proposal to redevelop the avenue into a “Green Street,” a one-way circle with landscaped pathways and buildings used for academic, research and residential purposes.
As student numbers increase, so do prospects for student-aimed housing both on and off Grounds.
Off-Grounds housing aimed toward students has grown in both price and quantity. The 2015 housing master plan showed that from 2012 to 2015, off-Grounds rental rates increased 14 percent. Due to zoning changes allowing for more high-density buildings in neighborhoods close to Grounds, the number of off-Grounds properties geared toward students has grown over the past decade. Still, according to the master plan, changes in the off-Grounds housing market have not had a large effect on undergraduates’ demand for housing.
New options in off-Grounds housing have not slowed down.
Last year, Uncommon, a large apartment complex that can accommodate 354 people, opened its doors on West Main Street. It joined its neighbor, the Flats at West Village, as an upscale housing option directed toward students. West Main Street continues to see change — in spring of 2018, the Draftsman Hotel is expected to open, answering an over-10 percent increase in demand for Charlottesville hotels since 2015.
Another behemoth student-aimed, luxury apartment building follows on the tails of these projects. The Standard, a six-story, special-permit structure also built on West Main Street, will start offering leases next month for its units, described on its website as “affordable lavish living in Charlottesville.” Instead of providing affordable housing units in The Standard, Landmark Properties of Athens, Ga., paid the city’s housing fund $664,777, opting to target students, and not lower-income families, as its market.
Among the building’s offered amenities is a virtual golf simulator, a feature also available across the street at Uncommon.
Since arriving in Virginia, Rabbit and Chris have traveled in and around the greater Charlottesville area in hopes of finding a stable living environment. Often, they’ve found themselves having to rely on their skills in ad hoc homemaking.
“Remember Lynchburg?” Chris asked Rabbit.
“Oh yeah,” she responded. “Lynchburg, we were right there in the middle of the town on the backside of Liberty University, and nobody knew we were there.”
“I set that camp up in the middle of the night, too,” he continued. “If I don’t want you to find me, you won’t find me.”
“I know how to maintain a camp like that,” Rabbit added.
Renting has proven to be an untenable option to the couple. Ascribing bad credit to years of medical bills and noting previous encounters with the law, Rabbit expressed her vexation regarding applications to rent properties.
“They want you to pass background and credit check, and we will not pass either,” she said.
Commenting on the current state of homelessness in Charlottesville, Erin Briggs Yates, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless, said that while homelessness remains a consistent year-to-year issue, its causes are dynamic and changing.
“It is hard to talk about homelessness as a growing or shrinking problem,” she said in an email. “What we have seen change is the struggles that people have that can lead to someone becoming homeless.”
Those struggles include, in addition to bad credit and criminal histories, physical and mental health issues, lack of insurance, unemployment and a deficit of housing options.
Various Charlottesville agencies have been working to address the area’s homelessness. The Haven in downtown Charlottesville serves as a day shelter, providing assistance and resources such as hot meals, showers and laundry.
“On average The Haven serves 70 people daily,” Executive Director Stephen Hitchcock said in an email. “Over the course of a year, the cumulative number is approximately 350 people.”
Hitchcock described how the local housing market affected the Haven and its services.
“The city is roughly 10 square miles and, as you know, is a very desirable place to live/retire, and when you add in the student housing population, the result is a very limited affordable housing stock,” Hitchcock said.
Finding homes outside of Charlottesville also proves to be difficult.
“We would like to place some of clients in the surrounding counties, but transportation, and thus access to necessary resources, becomes a barrier,” Hitchcock said.
Briggs Yates mentioned the low inventory of affordable housing.
“With very little affordable housing in our region, finding a safe place to live that is on a bus line can be a huge challenge,” she said.
When it comes to both local public housing and services to the homeless, federal funds come into play. The Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless serves as Charlottesville’s local entity of the Continuum of Care, a program of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development aimed toward supporting community efforts at reducing homelessness, according to its website.
Briggs Yates noted that how the TJACH operates could change under the Trump administration.
“We haven’t seen official changes under the new administration, but the recommended budget has massive cuts to housing programs and funds used to provide low income housing, so we are watching it closely,” she said.
The City of Charlottesville’s Housing Program Coordinator Stacy Pethia mentioned the degree of unpredictability surrounding affordable housing.
“Right now, there is a lot of uncertainty about the future of funding for affordable housing programs,” she said in an email. “Both the House of Representatives and the Senate appropriations committees have approved budgets that continue to fund federal rental housing/assistance programs.”
Pethia said that while the Senate budget covers existing housing assistance programs and their rising costs, the House budget would lead to a cutback in Housing Choice Vouchers — formerly called Section 8 — by 140,000. Of those, she said, “2,873 households in Virginia would lose their assistance.”
While the future of affordable housing remains in flux, Briggs Yates explained how conversations regarding homelessness also need to change.
“We will need to expand the way that we look at families and youth in our community,” Briggs Yates said. “With only one shelter that takes families, this will take improving conversations with programs outside of the homeless system of care that are working with families.”
That same day, cooling off in the Rivanna River, Rabbit and Chris were talking about their next move. They had set up camp nearby but had earlier been told to leave by city authorities.
Neither was bitter. Exasperated, but not bitter.
“The guy who came out and gave me the bad news this morning, an older guy who works for the Parks Department, he actually seemed really remorseful that he had to tell me we had to go,” Rabbit said. “He was like, ‘I had to live out of a backpack for two or three years. You know, I know what it’s like. I understand.’”
Chris had been working on a construction site when it happened, Rabbit said.
“I said, ‘Look, my husband’s working,’” she continued. “’We’re just trying to keep a roof over our heads while we’re trying to find a place.’”
Chris continues to work for his construction company, and Rabbit keeps up with her handmade jewelry. As the summer temperatures increase, so does their time keeping cool in the Rivanna. And while Rabbit and Chris are facing the uncertainties of an intense housing market, they have three mainstays — each other, and their dog and cat.
It was Monday morning, July 24, and hundreds of rising first-years huddled in Slaughter Recreation Center for Orientation. As Tab Enoch, Orientation and New Student Programs director, left the stage, she remarked that the next speaker resembled Bruno Mars. Honor Committee chair Devin Rossin took the podium.
“Why do you have to put me out there like that?” Rossin, a fourth-year College student, joked. The first-years laughed. “Thanks, Tab.”
The tone changed swiftly to one of gravity. Silence. The students knew what Rossin’s speech would discuss.
“Good morning,” Rossin said. “My name is Devin Rossin, and as Tab said, I’m the chairman of the University’s Honor Committee. I’d like to join everyone in congratulating you on your monumental achievement — matriculation into the University of Virginia.”
Rossin said he would be using his time to discuss why Honor matters.
“If you’re feeling skeptical about this pledge, then you’re not alone,” Rossin said. “When I first came to the University in 2014, I thought the same exact thing.”
Rossin said he was told that students could leave their backpacks in the library and know they would not be stolen. He said he thought this was naive. And just as he started to believe in the community of trust, Rossin said, disaster struck.
“Less than a month after I set foot on Grounds, a second-year student, Hannah Graham, went missing and was later found to have been killed,” Rossin said. “A few months after that, a Rolling Stone article was released, alleging a horrifying incident of sexual assault at a fraternity house on Grounds. A short while after that, a close friend and mentor of mine, Martese Johnson, was brutalized on the Corner by ABC officers.”
He said he questioned why Honor even mattered in the wake of such awful events. But, Rossin said, the student body chose hope, deciding that Honor was more than about simply lying, cheating or stealing.
“To be honorable is to actively stand against sexual assault,” Rossin said. “To be honorable is to condemn hate speech … To be honorable is to fight for the health, safety and well-being of every single one of your fellow ‘Hoos.”
On My Honors
I’ve never heard of anyone leaving their cell phones on the table in public,” first-year College student Logan Harper said after Rossin’s speech. “But I guess that’s a thing here, and you can trust your community.”
Outside on the field next to the Observatory Hill Dining Hall, Orientation Leaders led incoming students in ice-breakers.
“I didn’t realize that the Honor Committee was so involved with students,” first-year College student James Burger said. “I’d always heard that that was a big deal, but I think [Rossin] really pushed what a big deal it is as it relates to students and their involvement with it.”
Yet, the Honor system has always involved the student body. The Honor system was born in response to an era of tension between students and faculty, full of frequent spats and incidents. In 1840, a student fatally shot Law Prof. Professor John Davis after Davis tried to quiet a disturbance on the Lawn.
In 1842, in light of the tumult, Law Prof. Henry St. George Tucker proposed a solution.
“Resolved, that in all future examinations … each candidate shall attach to the written answers … a certificate of the following words: I, A.B., do hereby certify on my honor that I have derived no assistance during the time of this examination from any source whatsoever,” he wrote in his resolution.
Wanting to be measured by their own standards, the students took ownership of the system, extending it beyond the classroom. The system has been completely student-run since then.
The self-declared purpose of the Honor system is to uphold the Community of Trust, defined as a culture of honesty and respect.
“I think the ideal Honor system is that everyone is part of this community, is a Community of Trust and people don’t lie, cheat or steal,” said Pat Lampkin, vice president and chief student affairs officer at the University. “That’s the ideal. That’s what a system is in place to espouse.”
If students do lie, cheat or steal, there is a single sanction — expulsion from the University of Virginia. Students found guilty of a significant act of lying, cheating or stealing — committed with knowledge — at an Honor trial are permanently removed from the University.
However, the process of getting to that moment — in which a student is asked to leave the University — starts much earlier.
After the reporter — the person aware of a possible Honor offense — notifies the committee of a possible infraction committed by another student, they are interviewed by an Honor Advisor. If they decide to proceed with the case, the advisor leads the reporter through the process.
The reported student is then contacted. The student may elect to file a Contributory Mental/Medical Disorder (CMD) or an Informed Retraction (IR) during the seven-day IR period. Their identity, as well as the identity of the reporter, is confidential.
The IR, which was passed by student vote in 2013, allows a student to take responsibility for the offense, admit the offense to all affected parties and leave the University for two semesters. Between April 4, 2016, and April 2, 2017, 15 students elected to take the IR.
“There were students who felt the need to fight the charge even though they knew that what they had done was wrong because they were trying to maintain their place at the institution,” said Nicole Eramo, executive director of assessment and planning for the Office of the Vice President of Student Affairs. “And you can see why they would want to do that. But it put them in a position of maybe not being truthful, and that’s exactly what the system’s made to not do.”
If the reported student does not choose to take an IR or CMD, the case proceeds to a full investigation. After that, the case goes to an investigative panel, which decides whether to formally accuse the student or drop the case. If the student is formally accused, then the case goes to trial.
At this time, the student may leave admitting guilt, take a CMD or go through a formal hearing. If four-fifths of the student jury finds the student guilty, the student is expelled. If not, the case is dropped.
“Unfortunately, a few times a year, a student does go all the way through and is found guilty at a hearing,” said Evan Pivonka, adjunct Politics professor and special assistant to the Honor Committee. “It doesn’t happen often, and when it does, I’m sure there’s frustration.”
For cases reported between April 4, 2016, and April 2, 2017, two students were found guilty at a hearing. Another student left after admitting guilt. There were a total of 49 reports during this time period.
As a Student
Leaning back on a chair in his office, Dean of Students Allen Groves remarked on a memory from his time as a Law student at the University. He represented a student accused of cheating as Counsel in a trial.
“As someone who practiced law for 16 years before coming back to the University, I have said to students many times that whenever I was asked by lawyers, what was the biggest case I ever handled, the answer was defending that student when I was a Law student,” Groves said. “Because I knew what was on the line for that student. I believed that they were innocent. I still do. I felt a great pressure on my shoulders to prove that.”
The student was found not guilty.
“I remember getting the phone call at my little apartment that deliberations were done, and they had reached a verdict,” Groves said. “And [I remember] walking back with that student and [their] parents back to Newcomb Hall to await the verdict.”
Groves said that when he was a student, the system looked very different than it does today. He returned to the University in 2006 after 16 years of practicing law.
“I knew what was on the line for that student. I believed that they were innocent. I still do.”
-Dean of Students Allen Groves
The system has evolved throughout history,” Groves said. “Alums, myself included, have to have faith and confidence and trust in the current generation of students to create a system that fits their needs while being consistent with the core tenets of the University.”
But not all alums, Groves said, are pleased with the changes.
“I think the most difficult thing for many alums is that for each of us, the perfect Honor system is the Honor system when we were a student,” Groves said. “I’ll talk to alums who often say to me, ‘the students are messing up the Honor system, the students are messing up the Honor system.’ My view is, look, there were changes that occurred in the Honor system before you came.”
Former Honor Chair Mike Lenox, a Darden senior associate dean and chief strategy officer, said Honor can be judged by the strength of the community of trust.
“To me the best metric of success of an Honor system is not how many people do you catch and kick out of the school or punish in some way, it’s to what degree is there a robust community of trust, to what degree is there a lack of cheating,” Lenox said. “I think the evidence backs this up in that U.Va. is very unique. There’s an epidemic of cheating across the U.S. Some of the self-reported numbers of students who say they cheat in college is 80 percent plus. The numbers at U.Va. are far less than that, not that any amount is acceptable. It’s a very different place here.”
Thomas Hall, a two-time Honor Chair who graduated from both the College and the Law School, said smaller things can change, but the very foundations of the system should stay intact. Hall now prosecutes fraud cases for the U.S. Department of Justice.
“My advice to the students then was fiddle all you want with the above-grounds [parts] of the Honor system,” Hall said. “I likened it to a house … Change the windows, put the new shutters up, just change the house, but when you’re talking about foundational aspects of the Honor system, the foundation of the house, my advice is to tread carefully. It has served [nearly 200] years now worth of alumni well during their time on Grounds and beyond. To fundamentally upset that would be a significant thing and I think requires significant thought.”
I Have Neither Given Nor Received
Every year, the incoming first-year class attends the Opening Convocation and Honor Induction during Fall Orientation. Before students sign scrolls inked with the Honor Pledge, promising not to lie, cheat or steal during their time at the University, guests and the Honor chair speak about the system.
In 2015, Hall spoke at Convocation about the Honor system.
“Every time I stand up in front of a jury for the first time, I tell them the case they’ll be deciding is about lying, cheating or stealing,” Hall said at Convocation. “That’s an extreme example … But I hope that all of you will leave Grounds with an ethical education, something that won’t be reflected on your transcript or your résumé.”
Hall said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily that the Honor system has gone through many changes since its inception — student involvement and opinion has “waxed and waned,” and the Constitution and bylaws have been changed.
“The thesis that I laid out there, or one of the aspects that I laid out there, was that the Honor system is always changing,” Hall said. “The Honor system of 2017 looks very different from the Honor system of 1987 and of 1967.”
But Hall said many of today’s issues existed when he was chair in 2000-01 and 2001-02.
“I think there’s always the perspective … that the sky is falling on the Honor system,” Hall said. “If you look back at media coverage of the Honor system from the 60s or the 70s or the 80s, the Honor system is always on the verge of collapse. Many of the issues of the Honor system are perennial ones — student consideration of the single sanction system, for instance.”
In 2016, students narrowly failed to pass an amendment replacing the existing single-sanction system with a multiple-sanction system. The multi-sanction option garnered just under the 60 percent necessary to pass.
Other amendments have come up to vote more recently. University alumnus Nathan Gonzalez authored the “Democratization Amendment” this past spring, which sought to lower the 60 percent threshold to 55 percent needed to amend the Constitution.
“I was surprised that we hadn’t had a vote on the matter of if U.Va. students were interested in lowering the margin of required votes to 50 or 55 percent,” Gonzalez said. “I thought that was a pretty valuable question to consider, thinking about the fact that the proposed amendment two election cycles ago about the single sanction [was defeated] by just a very small margin.”
Gonzalez drafted the amendment and it appeared on the ballot in the 2017 election. It was defeated, receiving 46.62 percent of the vote.
“It was pretty disappointing seeing the voting results,” Gonzalez said. “We were pretty confident that people would respond well to the idea, so … we thought we would at least get the majority of the votes. Getting that 47 percent vote was a bit a blow initially. That was pretty disappointing to deal with, because I thought the idea was pretty good.”
Gonzalez said he wished students could have had more time to think about the amendment.
“In the end, with the Democratization Amendment, we had only two weeks, maybe one if somebody heard about it last minute,” Gonzalez said. “I still think people had good time to think about it, but if I could go back and do it again, I would have had it in a non-binding question, so hopefully people would have voted for that amendment to be on the ballot for next year and have a whole year to discuss and debate it.”
Gonzalez said he doesn’t believe the Committee is representing the interests and opinions of the student body well enough.
“The Honor Committee members suggested many times that we don’t necessarily need popular referendums, we don’t necessarily need them to be more powerful and easier to pass, because the opinions of the student body are already representative in the fact that we elect people and representatives who are supposed to be like us and supposed to represent our interests on the board,” Gonzalez said. “At face value, that sounds fine, but through experience, I don’t believe it.”
Gonzalez said the Committee was not as representative as it could be, necessitating the Democratization Amendment.
“Even though we have people that we elect who are supposed to represent our interests … We can also have alternate methods to which we can voice our concerns,” Gonzalez said. “There’s room for both.”
Aid On This Assignment
Em Flynn, a second-year Engineering student, spent the summer in Charlottesville to work on her project for the Honor Fellowship.
“My project is looking at professor-student communication from the professors’ side,” Flynn said. “I’m interviewing a lot of professors and it has a special focus on students with accommodations, so students with SDAC [Student Disability Access Center accommodations].”
Flynn is hard of hearing and said the project arose out of experience with her accommodations getting in the way of communicating with professors. She said that if a professor writes what he or she says down, the problem can be fixed fairly easily.
“Professors will say something in class, and for obvious reasons, I won’t hear it, and sometimes they will write it down, sometimes they don’t,” Flynn said. “If they don’t write it down, then I’ll have to go ask them for clarification or ask someone else for clarification. If I’m not on my game all the time, asking people all the time, then I could miss something and that could result in an Honor offense or just a really bad grade.”
Currently, if a student takes a Contributory Mental or Medical Disorder, they must admit guilt first.
“Disability …. plays a large part in how students conduct themselves in the classroom and when they’re communicating with professors,” Flynn said. “So having to admit guilt before considering that seems fundamentally unfair … To have that disability considered in the case, I think that would be something that would be good to change.”
Inside and outside the system, many have asked whether the system is fair for international students.
Last year, Engineering graduate student Georgina Hunt, an international student from Britain, chose an open trial and was found guilty of cheating.
After Hunt’s expulsion, some said the Honor Committee was unfair to international students, citing barriers like language and cultural norms as standing in the way of understanding the Honor Code.
“I can’t really wrap my mind around what it would mean to leave my country all together into a scary country that is so very different from ours,” said Lauren LeVan, a fourth-year College student and Asian Student Union president. “If you’re throwing all these things like I will never lie, cheat or steal, or neither given nor received, it can get a little dicey.”
Rossin said there are many safeguards to ensure due process for and maintain the rights of reported students.
“When cases are given to us, we treat every single student incredibly fairly,” Rossin said. “If you look at just our numbers from last year, 49 reports, only three students being found guilty after that … I believe that the Honor internal proceedings are incredibly fair.”
LeVan said language barriers could stand in the way of international students’ understanding of the Honor system.
“Especially for international students … maybe they are fluent in English but there are certain things that they don’t completely understand, like double negatives,” LeVan said. “Language barriers create a huge barrier in Honor offenses, [but] I’m not sure what the statistics are.”
LeVan said she believes the system can be improved by becoming more transparent.
“[My ideal Honor system is] one that’s open and transparent,” LeVan said. “I think like any democratic system, the more people that are involved in it, the more true to its constituents it would be. To integrate Honor more into daily life and into the student body instead of seeing it like this scary, looming parent organization that may or may not be able to expel us from the school … I think would be awesome.”
Brandt Welch, a fourth-year Engineering student and Honor vice-chair for outreach , said that he believed Honor could better engage international students, and that the Committee plans to work on engagement throughout the year.
“I don’t believe that there are enough international students in Honor to give a proper voice to the challenges that international students face as it relates to Honor,” Welch said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “This can be solved through better outreach when it comes to recruiting and continuing to make sure that Honor is a welcoming space for all students.”
Welch said he believed international students could face challenges in understanding an Honor policy, especially if they do not feel comfortable with English, putting them at a higher risk for commission of Honor offenses.
“To combat this, professors must go the extra mile to ensure that all students understand what is and is not acceptable in a particular class,” Welch said.
Tamia Walker-Atwater, a fourth-year Nursing student and Honor vice-chair for education , is also working on improving the relationship between Honor and international students.
“Last spring semester Matt [West, former Honor chair] got the idea to put together an international student handbook,” Walker-Atwater said. “One of the main foci of my campaign was to create translations of the handbook. We hope to have the whole thing translated into five different languages by the end of this year.”
Rossin said one of his priorities for this year is outreach to international students, as well as greater representation of international students in the support officer pool and Committee.
“International students have been over-reported, just based on what I’ve seen back in my days as a [support officer],” Rossin said. “We just need to do a better job of education outreach to every single community on Grounds and groups that have been underrepresented in the system.”
Rossin said he would be speaking at the international students’ orientation.
“The [Honor system here] is probably pretty different from what they’ve seen in the past,” Rossin said. “The Honor system is not only an incredibly Western notion of what Honor is, but also an incredibly Southern notion. It may be a departure from what other folks think of academic integrity.”
Back at Slaughter Recreation Center, students were still silent. Rossin stood at the podium.
“I say all of this to you because, in the words of one of my predecessors, we’ve been selling ourselves short,” Rossin said. “When asking what Honor is, we’ve too often responded with some anecdote about leaving our belongings somewhere on Grounds, only to find them untouched weeks and weeks later. And as impressive as this is, it doesn’t speak to the core of what Honor stands for.”
Rossin said Honor is defined by the students holding it. Now, those students include the Class of 2021.
“As I enter my last year here, I speak for the Honor Committee when I say that I look forward to handing you all the torch,” Rossin closed. “Welcome to the University of Virginia.”This article has been updated.