Seven students elected to undergraduate honor system

Originally published by the Collegiate Times as News. 
Published online on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015.

Seven students have been elected to the undergraduate honor system for the 2015-2016 academic year to uphold the honor code and academic reputation of Virginia Tech.

The student-led system advocates and educates students accused of violations, including common ones such as plagiarism, assistance and projects with multiple assignment submissions. Appointments were finalized after recommendations were given to the review board on July 1, and the seven students began officially at the start of the fall semester.

This year’s honor system is led by Chief Justice Antonia Myers-Burton, a senior triple-majoring in psychology, sociology and criminology and associate chief justice Ian Van Pelt, a senior double-majoring in microbiology and biological sciences and philosophy.

The five associate justices are Ryan Cabayan, a senior double-majoring in international studies and public relations; Caroline Eckstrom, a junior double-majoring in biology and agricultural and applied economics; Chanel Franklin, a senior mathematics major; Camille Peeples, a junior human nutrition, foods and exercise major; and Gerald Pydeski, a senior animal and poultry sciences major.

"I'm very excited because I worked pretty hard to get this position, and I'm glad to finally be in it,” Pydeski said. “The people I'm working with are really good at what they do and I've learned a lot from them, and we work really well as a team.”

Pydeski, one of five associate justices, is responsible for investigating violation reports and conducting judicial panel hearings. Current associate justices must have already served on the panel, which is responsible for hearing evidence and determining the verdict.

"I fell in love with the ability to serve and to develop this culture of academic integrity because it's so important on our campus,” Myers-Burton said. “I love being that go-to person and getting to see more of the campus, because I get to sit on these government committees, which I wouldn't have seen in other positions.”

As chief justice, Myers-Burton has an oversight role over the process and policy, working closely with James Orr, the director of the undergraduate honor system.

"We want people to know that the students who come to Virginia Tech learn the material, and they have the skill set their degree implies that they have, and that the institution is committed to developing men and women of integrity who are going to be able to go out into society and have a positive impact on the world,” Orr said.

The honor system works as both a judicial body for academic violations and as an educational resource for students, to prevent confusion and promote a culture of academic integrity and honesty.

"We're actually here to help you; we're not here to punish you,” Pydeski said. “We're educational, and we believe in second chances."

Students who have committed a violation, accidental or otherwise, are encouraged to learn from mistakes. Unlike other universities, Virginia Tech does not have a one-strike policy but still rarely encounters repeat offenders.

"A lot of students come in concerned about being suspended or expelled or something like that, but you know, we're not U.Va. — we don't kick people out for making a mistake. We recognize that students do make mistakes,” Van Pelt said. “It's not like we're putting anybody on trial; that's not really the point. It's more of a fact-finding body than anything else.”

The honor system advises students to read syllabi, seek clarification from professors and to reach out to their office if further clarification is needed. The roles of justices extend beyond their jobs, challenging them to embody their academic values and mission in their classes and daily lives.

“Think about it as you're preserving the worth of your degree,” Eckstrom said. “It means creating a culture where academic misconduct is the exception and not the institution.”

Maintaining one of the oldest university honor codes first established in 1907, Virginia Tech continues to uphold high standards for all students and preserve the honesty of its degrees.

“Going through the process of being a panel member really made me feel like I had a way that I could give back to the Virginia Tech community, like 'Ut Prosim,' 'that I may serve,' and it really allowed me to discover more things about myself at the same time,” Eckstrom said. “I really found that, through advocating for students and helping them through the process, it was a really rewarding experience because I got to see firsthand that, even though a student has a small mistake, they can kind of come back from it and become constructive members of our university.”

An educational opportunity for both justices and other students, the honor system serves to understand and advise all students involved while continuing to strengthen the core of the academic reputation and culture of Virginia Tech.

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