Honor Codes Look Beyond Academics
Published: Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 02:04
With a revamped Residential Judiciary Committee and a growing Student Advocacy Office, the university’s avenues for student involvement in conduct policies are growing.
But unlike many universities that use student-enforced honor codes to protect against lying, stealing and other kinds of social misconduct, Georgetown’s is restricted to academic conduct.
Bryn Mawr College is one school that uses a broad honor code to police student life. According to Honor Board Head Emeritus Priya Saxena, this type of code positively contributes to the school’s culture.
“The social honor code encourages students to make the right decision but also holds them accountable for the not-so-right decisions,” Saxena wrote in an email.
The College of William and Mary and the University of Virginia also have honor codes that protect against cheating, lying and stealing. At both institutions, codes are enforced by entirely student-run organizations.
Stephen Nash, chair of the Honor Committee at UVA, said that the system, which was established in 1842 and was devised in part by students, has created an atmosphere of mutual respect and confidence on campus.
“I think many people feel that because of the presence of our system and how important it is for … students, it is an effective tool for preventing lying, cheating and stealing,” he said.
Nash added that the honor code creates an environment in which members of the campus community feel they can leave laptops and backpacks unattended.
Justin Duke, chair of the Honor Council at the College of William and Mary, echoed this sentiment but said that an honor code would not necessarily prevent major crimes.
“I think if someone’s going to steal computers or cars, they’re going to do it regardless of potential Honor Code ramifications just because they’re often dwarfed by legal ones,” he said.
Duke pointed out that the code is often more effective at preventing lesser offenses that involve questions of morality rather than legality.
“It makes you stop and realize that petty theft like that isn’t a one-way street,” he said. “If you commit an act, it comes at someone else’s expense.”
Saxena echoed this sentiment.
“Having an Honor Code does not make a perfect environment, but it does hold students accountable for their actions,” she wrote.
Georgetown’s honor pledge is a part of the university Honor System, which is separate from the Student Code of Conduct. Honor Code violations, which include plagiarism, are dealt with by the university’s Honor Court, while the Office of Student Conduct punishes Code of Conduct infractions.
Sonia Jacobson, director of Georgetown’s Honor Council and assistant for academic affairs, wrote in an email that the university’s pledge helps students understand the importance of honor.
Unlike those of William and Mary, UVA and Bryn Mawr, however, the Georgetown pledge does not address instances of theft.
Jacobson added that the university may implement a similar honor pledge for social consciousness and said that the issue is being considered by Vice President for Mission and Ministry Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J., Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson and Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Jeanne Lord.
“I do believe a stated pledge requiring honest, civil, respectful behavior would help remind students how important those attitudes are and help prevent theft by students against other students … and the institution,” Jacobson wrote in an email.
She added that the university has not considered integrating theft into the Honor Code.
According to Jacobson, because most of Georgetown’s crime seems to be committed by people not affiliated with the university, it would be difficult to determine whether or not such a pledge would help decrease crime on campus.
Duke emphasized that whether or not they are effective at preventing crime, social codes are important because they encompass all aspects of student life.
“The non-academic provisions in our code are important because it is an honor code and not an academic code,” he said. “I think ours covers the reality that college is a place to grow intellectually and it is a place where people mature into adults.”