An academic honor code: a necessary reform for Colby
Last Friday, Justin Rouse, Morgan Lingar, Kareem Kalil and I attended a New England Small College Athletic Conference Student Government Association (SGA) Presidents’ Summit at Connecticut College to meet with SGA leaders from around the NESCAC. We focused on discussing various issues with our social culture, including residence hall vandalism, bias incidents, sexual assault and alcohol culture; however, for me, the most productive and inspiring conversation was our conversation on honor codes.
Throughout my tenure here serving as co-president of SGA, the issue I have grappled with the most has been a lack of community accountability. Whether it is residence hall vandalism, sexual harassment or misconduct, or academic dishonesty, not only am I upset with the lack of respect shown by the offending students, but also by the hesitancy other students have to hold the offenders responsible. For instance, I have talked directly with a student who complained about vandalism in her hallway and knew who had committed it, but refused to turn the student in because she “did not want to get him in trouble.” Students at Colby often do not hold peers accountable for actions that damage, literally and figuratively, the community.
When I rant about this issue to my friends, many of them say that Colby is a tight-knit community where we do not want to “tattle” on each other, and thus, cause others to dislike us. My response has always been that I want a tight-knit community that values respect and integrity, and those who breach these values are not members of the community. The Colby community is a privilege, not an entitlement, and we each have the responsibility to hold each other to a common high standard.
At the summit, the Connecticut College SGA presented their academic and social honor code. Acceptance into the Connecticut College community requires a student to “accept membership” to a community that holds honesty and integrity as a core value, and to accept the “obligation to this community under the Honor Code…to uphold standards of behavior governed by honor” (Connecticut College Honor Code). A board composed entirely of students enforces the Honor Code. Students submit possible violations of the Honor Code to the board, which then decides if the act was a violation of the Honor Code and has complete control to decide the appropriate punishment according to a matrix of suggested punishments, which range from disciplinary actions to community service to grade reductions. In talking to a high school friend at Conn, he said that students appreciate the Honor Code because it is completely driven by students, and gives students the ownership to truly enforce an honest, respectful community.
Can Colby implement a similar honor code? Studies have shown that implementing an all-encompassing (social and academic) honor code at a school that currently does not have one is extremely difficult; however, implementing an academic honor code could be successful. There are many different types of academic honor codes, and we need to figure out the details of what could work at Colby. SGA has begun to have these preliminary conversations.
Overall, however, academic honor codes would enhance the academic experience at Colby, and implement an institutionalized emphasis on fairness in the classroom. Although an academic honor code does not explicitly address issues of honesty and accountability outside the classroom, adding an academic honor code to life at Colby would generate systematic conversations on integrity and student accountability. Hopefully, it will empower Colby students to act on their responsibility not to condone any disrespectful behavior, both inside and outside the classroom.
What is perhaps the most difficult, but also most exciting, aspect of implementing an honor code at Colby is the fact that it must be student-driven and accepted by the entire student body. Without student buy-in, an honor code would never, ever work. We, as students, have the power to determine what type of community we want at Colby, and I believe that an academic honor code can be a significant first step to emphasizing a community of mutual respect, integrity and accountability for our actions. Please come talk to or e-mail me (email@example.com) me or any other SGA representative with thoughts or questions about an academic honor code at Colby.