Honor Code spurs debate at Spring Plenary

Plenary Feb 2013

Although quorum came and went at Sunday night’s Spring Plenary, debate was energetic as students considered resolutions that sparked discussion about the quality of diversity on campus and the relevance of the Honor Code in light of a recent spike in violations.

On the table were resolutions to modify the Code’s preamble, suggest changes to the pricing structure of the meal plan, support the College’s commitment to fair trade products and implement an attendance policy for appointment and budgeting committees.

All four resolutions passed, as did a fifth resolution opening the process of ratifying the Honor Code.

While resolutions addressing the meal plan, fair trade and attendance policy passed with relative ease, drawing the usual line of logistical questions and administrative concerns, proposals to modify the Honor Code’s preamble and ratify the Code sparked the most heated debate.

The resolution, “Modernizing the Honor Code’s Preamble,” sponsored by Ming-Fui Chai ’15, Aaron Madow ’14 and Catherine Quero ’15, proposed revising the Preamble to emphasize “engaging” rather than “coming to terms” with diversity, adding the following to the existing text:

The bonds of our community are continuously created and strengthened through our engagement with one another. Through our differences, we can understand the richness that we each bring to the community and the limitations of any one perspective; only in the context of community can we fully realize our potential as lifelong learners.

Presenters said they wrote the resolution with the intention of deepening dialogue on diversity, pointing to the changes as a way to encourage students to embrace difference rather than simply acknowledge it.

Madow penned an editorial for The Clerk about a week before Plenary, citing a 1999-2000 report which describes discomfort among white students with growing multiculturalism on campus as demonstrative of a broader “silence” in the Honor Code on how students engage the issue of diversity among their peers.

Speaker1Several students approached the “con” microphone to challenge claims made in the article, although the proposed additions to the Preamble made no explicit reference to diversity or multiculturalism. “I think it’s problematic that [the resolution] is invested in historical narratives” rather than the experience of individuals, said Aubree Penney ’13.

Others took issue with specific language proposed by the resolution.

Matthew Cebul ’13 considered most of the additional language unnecessary.

“I agree with the spirit of the resolution, but I think the Honor Code is important in its parsimony and succinctness,” said Cebul. “Why don’t we just change that term to ‘embrace’ and get rid of all the other changes?”

Many speakers on the “pro” side said the resolution would help along conversations about diversity and encourage later classes to engage each other more productively.

“This resolution isn’t just about race, it’s about culture – it’s about gender, class, sexual orientation. This isn’t meant to exclude anyone,” said Koreana Pak ’15. “So far we’ve talked about details of the language. Language doesn’t dictate action, but it does show what we care about.”

The resolution passed after two rounds of pro-con debate and a friendly amendment, which nixed the last two lines of the proposed Preamble.

The night ended with the traditional vote to open ratification of the Honor Code, the process by which students vote to approve and continue the Code.

In a “State of the Ford” email last week, Honor Council co-chairs Tamar Hoffman ’15 and William Bannard ’14 highlighted a “dramatic increase” in the number and severity of cases brought to Honor Council within the last year, with 25 during the spring and fall 2012 semesters, or an average of about 12 cases a semester.

The debate took a turn early on when, asked whether he would personally be voting for ratification and why, Bannard said he would not be voting in favor of ratifying the Honor Code.

“I won’t be voting on the Honor Code based on the community as it is now,” said Bannard. “I think it’s important for all students to decide for themselves…It’s a great thing that works, when everyone buys into it.”

Later, Bannard added, “I don’t think my opinion should matter any more than anyone else’s.”

For each student at the “con” microphone who expressed similar concerns about the Code and the recent uptick in violations, another on the pro side defended ratification.

Jon Sweitzer-Lamme ’14 argued the Honor Code works even when a student violates it.

“I think what makes Haverford great is that it allows that person to be restored with the community,” he said.

Several times, members of Students’ Council interrupted the debate to remind students that the vote was to open up the ratification process, which will be conducted online starting Thursday.

Photos by Thy Vo ’14 (top) and Danny Rothschild ’15 (center).

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