The Honor Code: Cultivating Community or Inhibiting It?

 Image by Bernadette Berdychowski || Graphics by Savannah White

Image by Bernadette Berdychowski || Graphics by Savannah White

 

Traditionally, college honor codes concentrate on academic integrity. These pledges morally obligate students to report any peer who violates that promise, whether that offense be cheating on a test or plagiarizing an essay.

Colleges and universities across the world employ honor codes in order to build community and security on their campuses.

Every college is different, and thus, honor codes cannot be compared toe-to-toe and are limited to the student body they are intended to serve.

The King’s College Honor Code differs by having a heavy emphasis on Christian ethics, with a desire to enable students to cultivate virtuous lives and personal morality. The King’s College states, “Contemporary cultural norms embrace tolerance, but, at King’s, we follow a Christian standard of love that doesn’t favor our fellow man continuing in dishonor.”

“What we sign our name to is that we won’t lie, cheat, or steal, or turn a blind eye to anyone who does; that’s the Honor Code, that’s what we promise,” said Annabelle Ford, a Junior and former Chamberlain of the House of Queen Elizabeth I.

The first slide contains a simplified version of the honor code of Messiah College; the second slide is The King's College; the third is of Stanford University. 

Many students say they did not realize the long list of other rules they signed up for when they agreed to write their name at Convocation. 

“Then we’re told that in that promise we’re also making a bunch of other promises in the handbook," Ford says. "So, then I felt like I had to follow all these rules in the Handbook because I signed my name to, you know, this Honor Code.” 

But opinions on the honor code divide the student body.

 

The Honor Code is designed with the goal of helping students strive to ultimately live virtuous lives. In essence, it implores individuals to be honest and authentic with one another.

 

Some students say that the application of the Honor Code make it a weapon. Others say that despite the uncomfortable situations the code prompts students to have with each other, it fosters community and character transformation that many collegiate campuses lack.

Junior Lucas Ebel and Helmsman of the House of Bonhoeffer opened up about the time he was honor-coded in the Spring semester of his Freshman year for things that happened in the Fall. 

“Before I got Honor Coded I would’ve been a lot more negative about it and I still would say I don’t agree with everything that the Honor Code says. But at the same time, as both a member of this community: a student and an exec team member, I am willing to submit myself to those rules and use those rules in the attempt to pursue character cause that is the goal of them.”

Ebel described just how divisive the Honor Code can be.  

“I think there’s a lot of people who view those who break the Honor Code in a somewhat negative light and will judge them for that and, I think there’s other people that will judge people for perfectly following the Honor Code,”  Ebel said. “I think both of those judgements are wrong. We make mistakes and we try to improve and get better from those mistakes. We shouldn’t judge people based on that.”

The Honor Code is designed to help students strive to live virtuous lives. In essence, the Honor Code implores individuals to be honest and authentic with one another.

This can be done over coffee or lunch with just a simple friendly conversation, a conversation that expresses concern while also confronting the grave matter at hand: a lapse in virtue within a member of The King’s College’s community.

“The viability of The King’s College community depends on every member, which is why the second part of the Honor Code is essential. Students are expected to confront one another when breaches of honor occur,” The King’s College states in its student handbook.

But, what could happen if peers skip the compassionate confrontations and go straight to the administration?

“Only one of the [four] times I have been Honor Coded have I been confronted,” said Sophomore Kirubell Asmamaw.

 

“The viability of The King’s College community depends on every member, which is why the second part of the Honor Code is essential. Students are expected to confront one another when breaches of honor occur.”

-The King’s College Student Handbook

 

Asmamaw asked the school why they allow this “tattle-tale” behavior—rather than requiring students to confront their peers. He claims the school replied, “We can’t make them.”

Dean of Students, David Leedy comments that this is one of the “big challenges” the administration encounters in equipping students to handle confrontation and these difficult conversations in a “redemptive” manner.

Asmamaw said that the “policing power” of the student body was originally meant to foster a tight-knit community. Though the Honor Code was designed originally to build people up and make them better, it has morphed into a tool to tear them down.

Many students worry about being vulnerable because they fear they may have to pay for it later, Asmamaw added.

Before the first day of classes had even begun his freshman year, Asmamaw was approached by a member of his house’s executive team and confronted for the use of drugs due to an anonymous student’s comment. Asmamaw admitted to the accusation but also explained his reasons to the individual who confronted him.

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“Because I was honor coded the day I came here, like from the beginning, I never fostered a good relationship with a lot of students or people here,” said Asmamaw reflecting on his freshman year. “I pretty much isolated myself from King’s because--imagine you get here and your first day, you get Honor Coded.”

Asmamaw wonders what we as a community define honorable as.

“Is it honorable to go snitch on someone?” Asmamaw said. “If yes, have you considered how it’s going to affect them?”

It takes time to develop the strong relationships necessary for the Honor Code to work well, said Senior Trivette Knowles, former Director of Spiritual Life for the House of Lewis.

“Now, I feel comfortable in my house with the position to where I would just call somebody out and have them know it’s coming from a place of love,” Knowles said. “But, my freshman year, if I was to go up to another kid or if somebody was coming to me like, ‘Hey man, I really care about you…’ I was like, ‘What? You know me for all of a month and a half and you’re telling me that you care about me. That’s really odd.’”

 

“Is it honorable to go snitch on someone?”

-Kirubell Asmamaw

 

As divided as students are, the Honor Code is central to the culture at The King’s College and the school administration has not expressed any intent of changing it soon.

Their focus has been on teaching it the right way, in hopes that students will grow in virtue by confronting their peers and following the rules.

But the question lies in whether the Honor Code designed to serve the King’s community is effective at its job. Depending on who’s asked, the answer will vary.