Honor Council: How students got there and how they got out
Drew Knudsen was a King’s sophomore when he stood in front of the Honor Council at The King’s College for the first time and wondered whether he would be expelled just shy of his junior year.
The Honor Council, comprised of King’s students and faculty is tasked with deciding the fate of students responsible for misbehavior — anything including academic dishonesty, harassment, theft, ethical, moral or legal infractions and failures uphold the standards in the Student Handbook — or, at least, students like Knudsen whom have gotten caught.
Last academic year, eight students went before the Honor Council, according to Nick Sweddick, Assistant Dean of Students. Of those students, five were placed on disciplinary suspension and two were suspended. One student was immediately suspended without an Honor Council hearing.
Knudsen was spared from being expelled and was given the responsibility for setting up and tearing down Refuge. But for Knudsen, who had been caught with a fake ID after drunkenly breaking and entering into a building he thought was his dorm, the Honor Code may have saved him from being arrested.
“Having stuff on your criminal record can really mess up your life permanently,” Knudsen said.
The Honor Code protected him from the law and set him on a better path, he argues.
Not all students are fond of the Council — in part due to the self-admitted subjective nature of it.
According to an Honor Survey conducted by Student Development in the spring of 2019, 15 percent of the student body said they would “definitely not” defend the “legitimacy of The King’s College Honor System.” Whereas, 41 percent said they would “somewhat” defend and 44 percent would “definitely” defend.
“The responses to the above two questions reveals first-year students are more optimistic about the Honor System, while upperclassmen can be more cynical,” the Honor Survey read.
Some students, such as Knudsen, have been given many opportunities to shape up before potentially being suspended. Other students are sent to Honor Council to face their peers for a judgement ruling.
The police could have been involved in Knudsen’s breaking and entering. However, some incidents bypass the law and allow King’s to handle it and let fellow students be the judge alongside faculty.
“King’s needs to have a disciplinary process. If it was not the Honor System that is focused on individual character development within community it would be a more punitive system separated from relationship,” said Sweddick in an email to the EST. “I believe the system we have is the better option.”
The system, students said, changes on a person-to-person basis.
“Honor and legalistic performance are always subjective, unrelenting and without empathy when humans are judging it,” said Mason Clark, who was once a student at King’s before he was suspended after his freshman year. “God knows what is in our heart and in our past, none of which any human can know when they’re judging you against an ideal.”
Clark was suspended for underage drinking on campus and was given several violations. He said that the school had an “utter lack of transparency in their quasi legal system.”
The Honor Code is structured for students to be given multiple chances as a way to redeem the mistakes made. For others, such as Joe Enders, the redemptive treatment is not given, and the infraction was sent straight to the Honor Council.
Enders said he went straight to the Honor Council his senior year without being “honor-coded” because the council said a law had been broken.
“No one gave me any warning, no Honor Code and straight to the council,” said Enders, who graduated from King’s in 2018.
After Knudsen’s breaking and entering, the doorman — despite not being a King’s employee — contacted the school, which led to Knudsen being honor-coded on a second violation. Later he was caught for his third violation and was then taken to the Honor Council — but the same steps were not taken for Enders.
Enders was called to attest before the Honor Council with no previous violations after photos of him putting a “Make America Great Again” hat on the Fearless Girl statue went viral during the 2017 school year. The second student who participated in this event and also went before the Honor Council declined to comment for this article and asked not to be identified.
“They tried to say I committed a crime by putting a hat on the statue, but I took it off and went home. It wasn't vandalism because I took it off and it was not permanent,” Enders recalled.
In Enders’ case, he said he had been called before the Honor Council without being first honor-coded. On page 65 of the King’s College Student Handbook, under the table of Disciplinary Process and Consequence Guidelines, it says that “More severe [cases] e.g., drug possession with intent to sell or distribute; serving alcohol to under-aged individuals; theft; sexual or racial harassment; assault,” results in an immediate elevation to Director of Student Life or the case is referred to the Honor Council.
Enders says he hadn't committed any of the violations laid out in the Student Handbook.
When EST reached out to the school for a comment on this specific situation, they said they are not allowed to speak about individual cases.
“I don’t think I’m here because I broke the law. I think that was an excuse to get me here [before the Honor Council],” Enders said.
Enders recalled hearing a nearby police officer laughing while he took photos with the statue.
The school decided to take action on Enders’ public political display after another one of King’s students, Kirstyn Hippe, tweeted about the viral pictures saying “@TheKingsCollege if you don’t do anything about this I will be extremely disappointed.”
Enders was gaining national attention. The school and some students were not pleased.
Hippe, upon reflection, believes she “had a hot-headed moment and turned to Twitter before fully thinking it through,” she told EST in an email.
She also believes that The King’s College calls its students to be people of honor.
“Covering your face in the dead of night and mocking a symbol of women in leadership does not show courage of spirit. Denigrating immigrants and parading white supremacist symbolism is not compassionate or honorable. [The other student] and Joe can try to say that it wasn't done with ill intent, that ‘MAGA’ ideology doesn't belittle women, that Pepe the Frog is just a meme ... but at the end of the day, they knew exactly what message they were sending,” Hippe said. “... I think it's clear why it was in the school's best interest to step in.”
This was not made clear to Enders. He believes he was brought directly to the Honor Council for other reasons and left with no punishment enacted.
“The school was worried about their image. Donors were concerned because of Hippe’s tweet. The school probably thought it was something that would hurt their reputation,” he said.
Annabelle Ford, who was a Chamberlain for the 2017-2018 school year, believes that the Honor Code was created to foster conversations but in reality it can have the opposite effect.
One interaction she recalled was when she was confronted by her house advisor that she didn’t Honor Code anyone yet that year.
“It felt like a quota I had to meet. She then started listing my friends and asked ‘have you seen anything you should be talking to them about?’” Ford said.
“Having stuff on your criminal record can really mess up your life permanently.”
She also noted the times students confided in her, not their own Chamberlain, out of fear of being honor-coded by their own house if they talked about it.
“The Honor Code can close doors. It is meant to foster conversations, but it can have the opposite effect,” Ford said.
For some, the Honor System is a chance to grow as a person. For others, it can feel like a “weapon.”
“The Honor Code can be used as a weapon against those who have different views than the school,” Enders said. “I do think there are other situations where the council can be useful.”