CONNOLLY: Honor progress

The Honor Congress will hopefully prompt a trend towards outreach and student engagement

Last Thursday, the Honor Committee hosted its first ever “Honor Congress,” a forum for students and University community members to identify and discuss problems with the Honor System. The event did not, of course, solve the deeply rooted and significant problems with the Honor System, but it does constitute a positive first step towards making “Honor belong to all of us,” and not just those on the Honor Committee, as outgoing Honor Chair Evan Behrle said in a recent op-ed piece.

One of the Honor Committee’s problems is that it consists of a self-selecting group of students. Take the recent Honor Committee elections: just one candidate (a medical student) indicated that he opposed the single sanction; all other candidates voiced their support. This is not an accurate representation of the University community’s opinion on the Honor System. In a 2012 Honor Committee Survey, about 60 percent of students expressed support for the single sanction, but of these students, more than two thirds still had reservations about single sanction. The Honor Committee candidates (and by proxy, the Honor Committee) are therefore not representative of the student body as a whole.

In addition, students serving as Honor support officers are much more likely to be elected to leadership on the Honor Committee. Aside from Martese Johnson, all of the upcoming year’s Honor Committee, Executive Committee members have served as Honor support officers. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but it does indicate that Honor may be isolated or disconnected from the huge majority of students who have not served as Honor support officers.

For this reason, it is crucial to the future of the Honor System that students such as Johnson, who did not have experience with Honor prior to his election, run for the Honor Committee. Johnson brings a fresh perspective to the Committee, and he has shattered the idea that the Honor Committee is only accessible to Honor support officers. While support officers have a more intimate knowledge of the Honor System, their experiences with Honor are experiences shaped by their work within the Honor System, experiences not shared by the vast majority of University students. It is crucial that the Honor Committee be comprised of students with experiences representative of the student body as a whole, and Johnson’s election is symbolic of this goal. It is my hope that the Honor Congress and other events engage students who feel disconnected from the Honor System, and even convince reluctant students to apply to be support officers or run for Committee.

The Honor Congress is a very strong step in the direction of increased student engagement. About 160 students attended the event, breaking up into groups of 18 for group discussions facilitated by Honor Committee members and support officers. These groups discussed some of Honor’s major issues, including inconsistent reporting, student and faculty disillusionment, and low reporting rates.

I am encouraged by the Honor Congress, and I am encouraged that incoming Honor Chair Nicholas Hine and Vice Chair for Investigations Henley Hopkinson have made a commitment to increasing Honor outreach. I believe the Honor Congress should not be a one-time event. Regularly scheduled Honor Congresses would allow the Committee to keep its finger on the pulse of the student body. Honor has a responsibility to represent the students, and likewise, students have a responsibility to make their voices heard. The Honor Congress has great potential to facilitate this interaction.

I believe Honor Committee members and support officers should receive regular feedback from the student body as a whole. This is particularly crucial for Honor Committee members, who are elected by the student body to represent the student body. It is important that Honor Committee members truly represent the interests of the student body. And it is important that Honor Committee members engage and involve the student body. To this aim, I praise the first Honor Congress, and hope for more in the coming future.

John Connolly is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at j.connolly@cavalierdaily.com.


Published April 10, 2014 in Opinion





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