Saturday, May 26, 2018

Weekly Forum discusses an honor code in the new house system

Elaina Rollins ’16, News Editor

This past Friday, March 6, Dean of Students Fred Alford hosted the fourth House System Open Forum in Mather Hall. These forums aim to “de-mystify” the new housing system and collect ideas and advice from students. This week’s topic was about the potential for Trinity College’s honor code to play a role in the House System. Past topics have included the general format of the System, the role of advising in individual houses, and the use of facilities in the Houses. Dean Alford began the meeting by asking students if they knew Trinity has an honor code.

Although most people at the table recognized that there was a code at the College, most had vague ideas about what it involved. One student believed the purpose of the Honor Code was to, “uphold a sense of community, respect, and openness,” while another simply defined it as a document that says, “don’t lie, cheat, or steal.” Trinity’s actual Integrity Contract is a document signed by all students prior to official matriculation. The College defines it as a, “code of honor that fosters moral growth and upholds academic and personal integrity.”

Part I of the Contract is dedicated to academic life. When students sign the Integrity Contract, they are granted academic rights and freedoms, which allow them to think critically and “free the mind from parochialism and prejudice.” Part I of the Contract also includes a section on academic integrity and intellectual dishonesty, which deals with issues concerning cheating and plagiarism.

Social life policies are dealt with in Part II of the Contract. Trinity requires its students to extend its “principles of honor, responsibility, and self-governance” beyond the classroom. Students committed to the Honor Code treat their peers sensibly and conduct themselves maturely. The majority of the students at the House Forum clearly did not know all of these details about the Honor Code. Dean Alford said that he believes trust is the most important part of an honor code. Trust involves a sense of fair play and an appreciation of the people in the community. He related a college’s honor code to an honor code within the marines or a fraternity in order to emphasize the idea of trust within a community.

Dean Alford recognized that while trying to decide how to integrate an Honor Code into the new House System, faculty struggled with the idea that students often feel a great loyalty not to “rat out” their peers. Several students at the table acknowledged the legitimacy of this concern. Most students see or hear of cheating at some point at their time at Trinity, yet they often do not acknowledge the situation. This creates, in a sense, two senses of honor within the community: student loyalty to other students and student loyalty to the College Honor Code.

Other liberal arts colleges like Trinity have Honor Codes that are deeply engrained and respected. At Haverford, students are known for leaving their backpacks unattended around campus and taking exams in their dorm rooms with no faculty around to make sure they do not cheat. When prompted about the level of trust on Trinity’s campus, one student said he felt that trust was “low” in the community. He said that although he can confidently leave his dorm room and know his roommate will not steal his things, he knows he cannot leave expensive items in the library or other public spaces.

Dean Alford and the group all agreed that there could be a better sense of trust on campus. Dean Alford then asked the students at the Forum to imagine what they would include in the College’s Honor Code if Trinity were to start over from scratch. Overall, everyone at the meeting agreed that it is important not to steal from peers and to respect the faculty, administrators, and workers at the College. One professor offered a new take on promoting academic honesty in the classroom: he suggested that students could sign a short statement before every test or exam that says they promise that the work they are turning in is their own. This small act of signing a sheet of paper could help reaffirm and remind students of the Integrity Contract that they sign before they come to Trinity. This idea of starting from scratch has potential in the new House System.

Dean Alford introduced the idea that each House could have their own individual Integrity Contract that they craft and sign themselves. Rather than having students sign a document over the summer before they even arrive at school (which most people forget they even signed), members of each House could communally participate to agree on values that are important to them. If this idea were to be implemented, there could be many different strategies about how to uphold the Honor Code in the following years. Some students suggested that every fall, new and existing members of the Houses would review and vote on their respective Integrity Contracts. Other students thought that it could be helpful to recreate the Contract each year so that it is always relevant and fresh in students’ minds.

The exchange and flow of ideas at the Forum helped everyone at the meeting, both faculty and students, reflect on the College’s current Honor Code and how it could be improved. Although there were differing opinions in the group, everyone did agree that it would benefit the school to create an Honor Code that students respect and follow. Dean Alford and the House System sub-committee will continue to host these House Forums every Wednesday at 5:30 P.M. or 6:00 P.M. in the west side of Mather Hall. The forum is open to all students and faculty who are interested in discussing new options for the houses. Specific times and topic information is included in weekly emails sent out to the campus.

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