Letter to the editor

A good deal of talk lately has been dedicated to honor at Washington and Lee. The Honor System and the expectation that students consistently act as gentlemen and gentlewomen on and off campus were, for many of us, influential factors in choosing to spend four years in Lexington. Nevertheless, students make mistakes and sometimes fall short of the high standards to which we hold ourselves at W&L.

The Student Judicial Council hears such instances of student misconduct involving vandalism, drunk in public arrests, illegal substances, assaults, and driving while under the influence. While this is not a complete list, it gives you a sense of the matters which come before the SJC most often. Taken at face value, each of these violations reflect conduct unbecoming of a W&L student—and yet, these are not considered Honor Violations, but rather student conduct issues.

We view these as student conduct issues because they breach the Standard of behavior outlined in our student handbook and expected by members of our community. The SJC has at its disposal a variety of different sanctions which afford us the opportunity to work hand-in-hand with any given student to help that individual fully realize his or her mistake, take responsibility for it, and complete steps necessary to ensure the conduct violation does not happen again. These include community service, probation, drug and alcohol counseling, suspension, and many others.  We, as justices, do not focus solely on the punitive consequences of student misconduct, but instead strive to discover the best steps for helping the student move forward.

With these thoughts in mind, it is our opinion that DUIs, impaired driving, or any version of being under the influence while driving should continue to be handled through the SJC for the following reasons:

1.     Students have recovered from past DUI experiences to remain incredibly productive members of our community.

2.     There is no one kind of DUI. We have heard cases of students with BACs ranging from .04 to .14. There are times when the student knows he is intoxicated and makes the decision to drive or instances when he has taken all proactive steps to lower her BAC but unknowingly still drove with an illegally high BAC. Some cases involve passengers in the car, others do not. In some instances, students know they are getting into a car with someone who is under the influence; in other instances, they do not. There have been questions of distance driven, BAC affecting students differently, and fraudulent arrests.

3.     The Student Handbook, under advisement by the Board of Trustees, has a provision in which students who have been arrested while driving with a BAC of .15 or higher are automatically suspended for at least one academic term.

4.     Sanction flexibility and a commitment by the SJC to individual improvement and rehabilitation is paramount.  Having many sanction options allows each DUI case to be handled on a case by case basis. Student misconduct matters are not necessarily handled with any less severity than Honor Violations. We have the authority to dismiss students, but we also have the flexibility to give sanctions that may positively impact the W&L community by helping a student get back on the right track and be more committed than ever to Washington and Lee.

The SJC does not take the endangerment of student lives lightly. We are committed to making decisions that provide for the benefit of the campus community. It is our goal to increase awareness of the consequences of drunk driving both as a student conduct matter and a safety issue. Nevertheless, it is ultimately up to each and every individual student to take personal responsibility for themselves and others to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our community.

David Robinson, SJC Chairman

David Thomas, SJC Secretary

Paqui Toscano, SJC Chairmen-Elect

Samuel Gibson, SJC Secretary-Elect