UNC graduate student Maya Little’s Honor Court trial for her act of civil disobedience against Silent Sam began Thursday afternoon and will likely conclude Friday.
Little is being tried by the Graduate and Professional Honor Court system.
The UNC Honor System consists of the Undergraduate Honor Court and the Graduate and Professional Honor Court. Each court has a chair, vice-chair and honor court members – entirely comprised of UNC students. Both courts are supported by their Attorney General and his or her cabinet, managing associates and counsels.
Courtney Bain, attorney general of the Graduate and Professional Honor System, told The Daily Tar Heel in an email she could not comment on any specific cases due to privacy reasons.
Undergraduate Honor Court Chair Mary Beth Browne also said she could not comment on Little’s case.
“Honor Court, like all University entities, operates in accordance with FERPA," Browne said in an email to The Daily Tar Heel. "This means no one involved in Honor Court can discuss any case matters, nor can we confirm or deny that any such case exists. I know this may be frustrating.”
Browne said the goal of the Honor System is to determine sanctions that equitably address violations of honor code, if one is found.
“It ranges from a written letter of warning to expulsion, but I promise you, it is very rare in the undergraduate court,” she said, noting that all sanctions were on the table and that she could not speculate on sanctions. “The student attorney general mentioned to me last night that the last time they expelled a student was when they shot and killed people on Franklin Street.”
According to the Undergraduate Honor System Annual Report for 2016 to 2017, there were 204 reports received, 187 of which resulted in charges.
Browne said the Undergraduate Honor Court has a much larger case volume than the Graduate and Professional Honor Court.
Ph.D. student Lindsay Ayling said she thinks the Honor Court is racist in terms of how it tries cases, and cited a Daily Tar Heel article from 2016 which reported that 56 percent of academic cases in the University’s Honor Court concern students of color, while UNC’s campus is 63 percent white.
“I think we should keep in mind UNC violated the Civil Rights Act by maintaining Silent Sam,” she said. “The University has no moral authority to decide whether Maya’s anti-racist statement was honorable or not.”
Browne said all honor court cases are run the same way regardless of how high-profile they are, and the only change in terms of case administration would be if the student opted for an open hearing rather than the default of a closed case due to FERPA.
“We have a really great set of procedures in the undergraduate court we try to adhere to no matter what the case is, and I think we do a pretty good job at making sure that every student that comes through gets an equitable process,” she said. “We don’t privilege any case over another case in terms of how seriously we take every single student or organization that comes before the honor court.”
Ayling started a change.org petition in favor of dropping the charges against Little over the summer has received more than 6,660 signatures to date. She said she reached out to Honor Court officials regarding how to deliver the petition but did not receive a response.
Ph.D student Jennifer Standish said the Honor Court’s choice to try Little suggests what Little did wasn’t “absolutely necessary,” and hopes the court is influenced by the verdict at Little’s district court case.
“I think the ruling in her district court case really suggested that what Maya did was justified, even if they nominally said that she was guilty,” she said.
Campus Y Co-President Alli Whitenack, who is testifying in the hearing, said she doesn’t think Little should’ve been charged.
“I don’t think there is any University interest in charging a student for raising awareness and contextualizing the University’s history of white supremacy,” she said.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.