Letter to the Editor

Bob Shinehouse '16

“The Honor System means so much to me. I love the Honor System, and it is one of the reasons I came to Washington & Lee. I couldn’t imagine campus without it. I love leaving my backpack outside D-Hall; I love the freedom to take tests wherever I need; and I love the community it creates.”

This seems to be our community’s understanding of our Honor System. However, this description is not representative of the true purpose and focus of that system.

For two years, I have represented and guided my fellow Generals in their navigation of the Honor System and the three primary judicial bodies of the University: the Student Faculty Hearing Board, the Student Judicial Council, and the Executive Committee. Through my work with each group, I have developed a hands-on understanding of how the Honor System works in practice, as well as its shortcomings.

The Honor System is, at its core, a system based on the subjective experience of the current community. When run properly, this community-based system is the essence of self-governance: it is representative democracy in its purest form.

The current issue facing our community is that we rarely take into account the subjective nature of Honor Violations. Instead, we only ask whether dishonorable conduct has occurred without considering the community’s beliefs.

The White Book uses lying, stealing, and cheating as examples of dishonorable conduct that typically constitute an Honor Violation. It is unfortunate that our community often latches onto these examples, inadvertently codifying our Honor System. These are the examples we are exposed to as first-years, and they are reinforced each year. We never impress upon ourselves that, by definition, an Honor Violation can only be something that violates this community’s trust. With this emphasis on lying, cheating, and stealing, we lose sight of what an Honor Violation actually is.

If we are to retain the Honor System in its purest form, we need to ensure that we have a mature and well-considered understanding of that system. We need to realize that what is important is what each student understands dishonorable conduct to be and not the non-binding rhetoric of an introductory section of the White Book. We demean the System by failing to account for the collective beliefs of all current students. When we judge conduct in black and white, we fail to reflect what we have been tasked to uphold.

I do not believe that the Honor System is broken. We can return to the fundamental values of our community with only slight adjustments to reclaim the balance between trust and vigilance.

We need look no further than our own community to find these solutions because the Honor System begins and ends with each and every one of us.


Bob Shinehouse ‘16