I joined the Undergraduate Student Government as a class senator because I saw a gap in student representation on the Senate. As a first-generation, low-income woman of color, I was not familiar with anyone on the USG Senate who also identified with all three of these backgrounds. I viewed this as an opportunity to bring to the table the visions people of these communities on campus have for Princeton’s present and future.
Representation matters because identity matters. Having someone in a position of leadership who looks like you and shares a story similar to yours is empowering. It demonstrates to you that there is an effort being made to critically analyze the institutions in which you operate and the systems by which you function within these institutions in order to create an environment where you feel welcome, safe, and equal.
This is why, as a class senator, I fully endorse the four referenda on this winter’s USG elections ballot. These are referenda that, if voted for by three-fourths of all students who vote, would immediately reform the University’s Honor Constitution. I am endorsing these referenda because I have a commitment to the student body, and this commitment is not limited to the Class of 2018. My obligation also lies in representing other communities on our campus as well. From the Latinx to the FLI (first-gen, low-income) communities, I hold a responsibility to consciously — and to the best of my ability — consider the needs and concerns of my peers in all decisions I make as a voting member of the USG Senate.
Many members of the Latinx and FLI communities at Princeton have expressed deep concerns about the current structure of our Honor System. These concerns range from the lack of racial diversity of those who sit on the Committee, to what students believe is an excessive punishment for first-time Honor Code violations. Moreover, during and even before my time serving on the USG Senate, I listened to numerous testimonies from my peers about their experiences with the Honor Committee, the body of students that enforces the Honor Constitution.
Latinx and FLI students I’ve spoken with who have been called before the Committee discussed the extensive anxiety induced by the Committee’s initial phone call, during which the students were not told whether they were being called as witnesses or as alleged violators before the Committee. Others who have testified before this Committee told me about experiencing severe intimidation as well as unnecessary mental and emotional distress at the hands of peers that walk the same halls as us, sit next to us in class, and eat in the same dining spaces as us. One particular student who testified before the Committee discussed with me how she noticed Committee members would roll their eyes and explicitly make facial expressions when they thought she was not looking as she spoke during the four-hour-long hearing.
I’ve discussed the prevalence of this type of Committee culture not just with Latinx and FLI students who have been called before the Committee as alleged violators, but also with former Committee members themselves. One former member said that the persistent condescending and belittling behavior she observed from other Committee members towards the accused in various cases — and the senior committee members’ failure to reprimand such behavior — did not at all align with how she envisioned the role of the Honor Committee in its promotion of academic integrity at Princeton.
This is unacceptable. As a student-run group, the Honor Committee is accountable not only to the Honor Constitution, but also to the student body which, under Article VI, Section A, Subsection 2 of the Constitution, “has the right to amend that same constitution through a referendum vote.” From my conversations with students in these sub-communities of the larger Princeton community, these referenda are a way to not only reform an Honor System that is not reflective of their values as Princetonians, but also as a way to mitigate what they view as a significant potential for abuse of power from the Honor Committee itself.
The Honor System needs reform. Our Honor Constitution is supposed to be a living document that reflects the values of the diverse composition of our student body, and the Honor Committee is supposed to be a group of peers “who we trust will use their power to maturely enforce this Constitution.” As a class senator, what I have learned is that myriad students I am responsible for representing do not feel that the Constitution as it stands now accurately reflects their values and their vision for the Princeton student experience. Furthermore, they do not believe that the Constitution as it stands now promotes healthy behavior from Committee members when enforcing it.
I believe in integrity. I believe that the standards to which we hold ourselves in all aspects of our lives should encourage us to strive for good character, morale, and sincerity. I also believe these standards must reflect the values of the communities in which they are exercised, and the bodies that enforce them must operate in a way that keeps their authority in check. As a 2018 class senator — and more importantly, as a Princetonian — I endorse the four Honor Code referenda on the ballot because my constituents have spoken. It is time for a progressive Honor System that proactively encourages academic integrity among the Princeton student body and treats our peers fairly and humanely.
Soraya Morales Nuñez is a senior in politics from Grand Junction, Colo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is also a 2018 class senator.