A lost opportunity for student rights

Illustration by Kyle Saxton.

Emmett Fleming
Guest Contributor

Students have been robbed — not of their possessions, but of their right to a fair hearing by university judicial systems.

VCU’s Honor System does not allow students due process. Due process, as we all know, allows for a fair trial. We do not have this right if we are brought on charges at VCU for any range of offenses including theft, drug-related offenses or sexual assault. We must demand fair trials.

Unfortunately, House Bill 1123, which would have allowed for proper use of due process in university court hearings, died on the Senate floor just a few days ago. The primary function of this bill was to allow students to hire lawyers for their legal defense in university judicial hearings.

Why is this not already a policy in VCU’s Honor System? VCU is not the only school with this lack of due process. North Carolina is the only state that allows for students to hire lawyers in university disciplinary court hearings, as USA Today reports.

The bill had tested well in states like North Carolina. The polarized North Carolina state Senate found brief unification of a vote 112-1. I’m glad it passed with such a majority, but a part of me thinks — what of it?

Students are adults when they enter college, so they should be treated like adults. If a student commits a crime, they should receive the right to a fair trial, something so poetically written about in the 6th Amendment of our Constitution.

I can only imagine what the nonsense I have done in the past, if caught and brought to trial for, would have done to my academic career. Would I have been expelled? Maybe.

This is a time to express yourself freely, so long as it does not hurt anyone else. Sometimes, things happen. When nonsense has occurred in my life, I found myself pained, but in these experiences, I have learned what to do for better next time.

When these things come about, as they so often do in life, we must be understanding this period of expansion in student lives. Students need time to mature and adjust to the oncoming adult world. Virginia needs to understand this with empathetic ears.

If HB 1123 had passed, we would have due process and the ability to hire lawyers for trials What is the point of forbidding students from these basic rights of being an American?

University judicial systems that do not allow lawyers, like VCU’s, can be daunting experiences. It seems that the charges handed to students are another way to bring guilt before the trial is held, as if the judgments and accusations surrounding a charge from a Virginia university’s judicial system is eager to antagonize the defendant they’ve already prescribed a sense of shame for them.

Is that what Virginia universities want for the students, unfairness during trial? Students will suffer consequences beyond college if found guilty of these offenses. They deserve a fair chance to defend themselves.

Students exist in a bubble of expression and growth. When trouble comes, as it so often does, there should be a form of legal support for us. We need to stand together for a better university and a better Virginia; that means being aware of both our rights and working to reintroduce HB 1123.

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