Administrators and faculty who work with the Honor Forum said that they hope to clarify misconceptions about the Honor Code, particularly about how student-reported violations are handled.
In light of rumored violations last year and an UltraViolet poll that showed a significant number of students might be beginning to doubt enforcement of the Honor Code, administrators said students need to understand that when students report an alleged violation, accusers should not expect any kind of report back about action the school did or didn’t take or assume that action hasn’t been taken because they aren’t told about it.
Students need to have faith in the system, said Assistant Head of School Laura Hotchkiss.
“If consequences are needed, they will be taken care of,” she said.
One step toward clarification was a meeting between grades ten through twelve Sept 8. Hotchkiss, Head of School Barbara Wagner and Honor Code Advisor Reid Cottingham said they hope the events of last year will create more open communication between teachers and students.
“We have to promote more conversation about the Honor Code, not just when there is an issue, but always,” Wagner said. “Concerns that were expressed last spring would not have been as severe if there was more conversation about the process.”
Much of the unrest last year was due to students feeling left out after they made an allegation. However, Hotchkiss said this confidentiality is important for the sake of the accused student.
“If you put yourself in the position of the accused, you wouldn’t want the accuser to know the outcome. It’s a confidential process,” Hotchkiss said.
Cottingham said that an illusion of a lack of consequence stems from a misunderstanding that a violator, if found guilty, will be expelled.
“Many students don’t realize that expulsion is not a first-time consequence in the case of an Honor Code violation. There is a second chance,” Cottingham said.
Wagner said that she understands students’ perceptions about a lack of consequence.
“If your expectation is that the student cheated, and after investigating, Mrs. Hotchkiss does not find evidence that the student cheated, you may think nothing has been done if you don’t understand the process for investigation. Then you’ll lose trust in the Honor Code,” Wagner said.
Wagner said that a teacher’s explanation to an accuser of the process they will embark on is crucial to putting that student at ease. While they cannot tell the accuser the outcome, or details of the investigation, a promise to fulfill their duty and shed light on the truth is necessary.
“If a student reports to a teacher, and the teacher doesn’t say ‘I will follow up on this,’ and doesn’t give the student more information about what the process will be, it may lead to a lack of trust,” Wagner said.
Though difficult, last year’s situation led to “an opportunity to be clear about a process that can seem hidden or confusing to faculty and students,” Cottingham said. “I think students take it more seriously now,” she added.