We — the 17 authors of this column — comprise a majority of the Honor Committee. We call on our fellow students to vote “Yes” on this year’s sanctioning referendum, which would reduce our Honor sanction from expulsion to a two-semester leave of absence.
As students who have worked within Honor for years, we have reached a common conclusion — expulsion undermines the Community of Trust by branding students who make mistakes as irredeemable. Expulsion comes at too great a cost to students. It affects their health. It can be financially ruinous. And it strips students of their dignity, their community and the chance at redemption. An expelled student is a friend, a neighbor and a colleague. Every person is worthy of a second chance.
Expulsion is plagued by broad concerns about equity and justice. There are legitimate, longstanding concerns about whether our Honor system is tainted by racism and other forms of bias. Though more work is desperately needed to address disparities, we can no longer support a sanction that allows the most severe outcome to fall disproportionately on some communities more than others.
Expulsion also fails the practical needs of our community by disincentivizing reporting and affecting juries. Nearly 5 percent of students — or roughly 1,250 students — admitted in one survey to committing an honor offense. But Honor only receives 40 to 60 cases a year, in part because expulsion strongly disincentives reporting. Underreporting means that the reality of expulsion, rather than holding students accountable, is statistically more like a game of chance rather than anything resembling an effective policy. Further, the severity of expulsion impacts juries, pushing them to ignore clear evidence of guilt in favor of acquitting based on opposition to expulsion. Lowering the penalty will eliminate many of the disincentives to reporting and allow juries to more fairly weigh evidence, two critical steps towards transforming the system from a hollow branding tool to a functional institution.
Doing nothing is not the answer — inaction is a privilege of those with means, power and status. Institutionalist critics claim that they support alternative solutions because repealing expulsion destroys Honor by lowering our standards of conduct. Yet they fail to assemble a truly viable reform. This reform is not a perfect proposal. No reform is. This reform does not solve every single serious challenge that Honor faces. No reform can. Doing nothing hurts students. Expulsion benefits no one. Future students can and should pursue further reforms which improve our system in the years to come. This reform must be our first step towards a better future.
We are all stewards of this University. As the Honor Committee’s own statements about the Community of Trust note, students “are not passive recipients of culture, but rather are active agents in creating and maintaining the ideals of our community.” To change is not to destroy. The authors of this letter have collectively spent years fighting from within the Honor system. We care about this University and want to see it improve. But internal solutions and inaction have failed. It is time for real change.
Our Community of Trust must be about so much more than expulsion. It must call on us to act with integrity while affording the opportunity to learn from mistakes. Students who commit honor offenses should face consequences. But expulsion is not the answer. We all must meet the moment. We hope you will join us in this fight for a fairer system by voting “Yes” on the referendum.
The seventeen authors and co-signers of this piece constitute a majority of the Honor Committee. They include Christopher Benos, Tim Dodson, Shalmi Barman, Amanda Chok, Mary Zack H’Doubler, Lucian Mirra, Beau Muniz, Chanthang Oliver, Christian Oliver Smith, Deepa Patel, Charlotte Paulussen, Cristina Rodriguez, TCA Achintya, Holly Torsilieri, Ryan Visser, Meghan Wingert and Katherine Zain. Questions may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.