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9 Things I Learned While Serving on Honor Council

When I was a freshman, I used to picture Honor Council meetings taking place in a dark, austere courtroom, kind of like the Ministry of Magic dungeons in Harry Potter. In my mind, the name “Honor Council” itself invites notions of severity and gloom. Indeed I’ve found that many students at Haverford have shared similar, vaguely negative, impressions of Honor Council as a punitive judicial body that operates largely behind closed doors. Having now served half of my yearlong term as a senior class representative, I wanted to share what it’s like to be on Honor Council, in the hopes of clarifying misconceptions about what we do and perhaps to persuade someone reading this to try serving with us.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. Honor Council is a diverse group of students composed of sixteen representatives and one librarian. We span all four class years, representing a diversity of multicultural backgrounds, academic interests, social circles, and life experiences. Some of us had previously participated as jurors on trials prior to running for Council, and many of us have had our own personal experiences with cheating, plagiarism, and other academic integrity issues. This means that…
  2. Council makes decisions very, very slowly. This is the nature of consensus – we speak out of silence and give every representative the opportunity to voice their opinions, questions, and concerns before consenting on any given decision. The slow pace of consensus is a reflection of the diversity of the group, that we are not single-minded, and that the best way forward can be found only by meditating on a variety of opinions. This also applies to the student juries that adjudicate violations of the Honor Code. Student jurors at this school truly rise to the occasion in cautiously considering cases of Honor Code violations, taking very seriously the gravity of trial resolutions for both the confronted and confronting parties.
  3. Not everything that gets reported to Council goes to trial. Council not infrequently consents to drop cases and resolve them with alternative means, or consents to statements of non-violation (see recent abstracts “White Collar” and “To Kill a Mockingbird”). Trials are hard work, and our goal is not to prosecute every case to the fullest extent possible, but only insofar as the process is necessary and productive. This is a reflection of the fact that…
  4. Council and student juries are not vindictive or judgmental. Council members and jurors are students who make mistakes just like you do, and they will actively seek to understand the perspective of the confronted party during the circumstantial portion of each trial. The objective of the trial process is not to punish or avenge violations of the Honor Code, but to seek education about what went wrong, accountability for the violation, and restoration between the confronted and confronting parties and the community.
  5. Honor Council is not a precedent based body. We sacrifice the expediency of relying on past decisions in favor of judging the circumstances of each case independently. While previous cases may be used for reference (e.g. for suggesting useful resolutions that have been proposed in the past, see “The Tempest” referencing “Amelia Earhart”), the decisions of one case will not serve as justification for decisions on other cases. For example, two similar cases of plagiarism may be resolved very differently based on their underlying circumstances – there are no prescribed resolutions for any given type of violation.
  6. Serving on a trial is an incredibly rewarding experience. If you are randomly selected to be a juror, you might decline because you think serving would be awkward, that you’ll be punishing one of your peers, or that you don’t have time. I really encourage you to try it at least once before you graduate. Serving as a juror is an intellectually and interpersonally unique experience that has really made me appreciate the student body we have at Haverford.
  7. Honor Council does more than conduct trials. We are actively reaching out to the community with committees on Multiculturalism and Diversity, Sexual Misconduct Education, Student Outreach, and Community Forum Planning as well as representatives to Safety & Security and JSAAP. We want to ensure that Honor Council’s work is accessible (see our new website!) and meeting the needs of the community.
  8. Honor Council, like any judicial body, is imperfect. We are always looking for ways to make the trial process (including abstract release) and administration of the Code more efficient, fair, and in line with what the student body wants. We welcome suggestions and constructive criticism for ways we can improve Council!
  9. We want you to be part of the process. Elections for Council are held every semester, and no previous experience is required. Every student at this school has a unique and meaningful perspective to add to the discussion. If you don’t have time to join Council, there are so many great ways to get involved with the Honor Code:
  • Come speak out at abstract discussions, biweekly community forums, and plenary
  • Email us with questions or concerns
  • Volunteer your time if you are randomly selected to be a juror
  • Become an HCO
  • Come up with plenary resolutions

We are all so busy with our own work, but I think getting involved is essential for getting the real Haverford experience – after all, this is your school and your Honor Code.

One Comment

  1. Damon Motz-Storey December 2, 2013

    Bravo, Zach! A tremendously well-written snapshot of the Council experience, in my opinion.

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