Reforming the Way We View Honor
Honor reforms should give the average student more questions than answers
It’s safe to say this has been a politically charged year at the University. Before we even set foot on Grounds, students and faculty alike took up arms to defend the name and position of University President Teresa Sullivan. We were praised across the nation as defenders of justice and democracy as we protested the un-Jeffersonian nature of the entire ordeal in newspapers, in our every day discourse and here in Charlottesville. And here we are, again in hot water, calling into question not the decision of an easily demonized Board member, but rather the very foundation of the university we call home: the honor system.
Let me be clear. I’m not one to get political — at least not publicly. Not because I feel uninformed or unqualified to talk about complex issues, but because I cannot stand being told what to believe. Again and again, I am reminded that political discourse among my peers often means talking at someone instead of talking with someone — and nothing is more annoying than being harangued by someone who was in diapers the same time you were.
So rest easy, I have no interest in telling you how to vote on the Restore the Ideal Act later this month. Instead, I would like to suggest how to go about thinking about your vote.
I hate even having to list this as a step in the process, but everyone really needs to suck it up and commit to doing a little bit of light research. If your newsfeed looks anything like mine, then you’re wading through a confusing swamp of misinterpretation and blind defense of the system. Everyone at this school is currently claiming to be an honor expert.
But let’s be honest — Honor Committee members are biased. They joined Honor because they believe in the system and often don’t see its drawbacks. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s a lot of noise from those who are heavy critics but have never actually seen how the system works from the inside. Make sure you understand what the honor system is before you align yourself with either side.
From there, it’s a simple question: What does honor mean to you? Does it mean actively seeking to remove all members of the community who violate our code not to lie, steal or cheat? Or does it mean living in trust that this code is being upheld? Do you believe in your untrained peers to make the right decision on a jury? Or are you more inclined to trust your experienced but biased Honor Council members?
Think about under what circumstances the single sanction is justified to you. Are lying, cheating and stealing — the founding pillars of the system — meant to remain as such, or do issues like sexual assault and hate crimes fall more in line with our modern definition of honor?
This decision is a complex one, without a doubt. I have about 50 more questions to throw at you and only about 100 words. My point is really to show you this is not a black and white, right or wrong issue. Most people agree the system needs to change, and I cannot stress to you enough how important it is to take a moment to think seriously about what form this change should take.
We are questioning the structure of a pillar of this institution — one that has united almost every student who’s ever attended Mr. Jefferson’s University, from Poe to Couric to Fey to all of us here now and in the future. This decision may not have specific consequences for you personally, but it has the potential to affect the future of our school — something we all should be invested in.
Anne-Marie’s column runs biweekly Tuesdays. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.