The Hearing Advisor Program:The Phi weighs in

the Ring-tum Phi Staff

To many first-years at Washington and Lee, orientation week is one of the most memorable experiences here in Lexington. It’s the chance to go to your first college party, likely meet your future best friends and choose classes geared towards your college major. It’s your first true experience of the culture unique to W&L, specifically the Honor System.

Unfortunately, we believe a student’s introduction to the Honor System is far from ideal.

During a meeting in Lee Chapel, the current Executive Committee president stands before some 450 fresh-faced, wide-eyed students for a seemingly long moment of silence after he or she asks any student who feels he or she cannot meet the honesty demanded at W&L to stand up and leave the university immediately.

As current EC President Mason Grist, ‘18, said in a previous interview with The Ring-tum Phi, this moment is a student’s first taste of the seriousness of the Honor System at W&L.

While we certainly appreciate and respect the level of the intent by which the system is described, The Ring-tum Phi staff believes that this intimidation tactic ultimately undermines the opportunity to really educate students about specific details of the system.

As demonstrated by comments in this week’s Honor Series news article, ‘Who are the hearing advisors and what is their role?,’ the Hearing Advisor program is one such detail of the system that many students find themselves uninformed about.

The EC does place students into small groups after the meeting in Lee Chapel to carve out time for a more in-depth conversation about the Honor System. In these breakout sessions led by a member of the EC, students are able to ask questions about any aspect of the system.

These sessions have been a part of orientation week for several years. Yet, current seniors say that they have little recollection of attending them as first-years. When you ask a few of them what they remember about orientation week and the Honor System, the common response goes something like this: “Walking back to Graham Lees and thinking, ‘Woah, that was scary and pretty intense.’”

For students who do recall participating in these breakout sessions, their experience is not necessarily a positive one. Students said that instead of leading a thorough discussion, their meeting leader dismissed them early, recommending that students just read the White Book on their own time.

The infamous speech is undoubtedly effective in highlighting the gravity of the honor system. We fully agree that it’s a necessary point to communicate from the onset. But there needs to be a better balance between demonstrating the impact and creating a teaching moment.

In finding that particular balance, we might not have so many students saying that after almost four years at W&L, they couldn’t even tell you what a Hearing Advisor does. Do hearing advisors represent accused students like a lawyer would or do they just collect information related to your case and give it to you to present?

As Assistant Head Hearing Advisor Bren Flanigan, ’16, said in this week’s article, an advisor’s role falls somewhere between a lawyer and a guidance counselor. Although their specific roles change depending on what committee the case will be presented to (EC, SJC or SFHB), the advisors are an important part of the investigation series.

The reason behind much of the confusion with this program is that advisors get little to no publicity for their hard work. One of the only resources to learn more about the program are the notices posted outside of Café 77, but even those are commonly overlooked by many students.

Even though the EC makes a genuine attempt to better educate new students about the Honor System, including breakout sessions and a follow up session in the fall, they still seem to fall short of accurately describing the system and the role of the advisors within it.

That brings room for blame on both sides: students need to realize that they have a responsibility to take these breakout sessions just as seriously as the speech in Lee Chapel.

The Honor System is an integral part of the W&L community. Students should not only be expected to understand how it works, but should want to understand how it works.

The Honor System—and the environment it fosters on our campus—is one of the most frequently cited factors when you ask a student why he or she chose W&L. One would then expect that students actually read the White Book. Sadly, few do.

The EC and each incoming class must work together to ensure that every introductory meeting about the Honor System is informative and effective at explaining all the various aspects related to it, including the group of students that could support them should they ever be accused of committing an honor or conduct violation.

We applaud those students who are already working hard to achieve this goal, through initiatives like the EC’s Education Task Force, which is devoted to educating the community on the Honor System. But we want to remind every member of the university community to speak up.

Be an active member of the Honor System: read the White Book and ask questions when you don’t understand or simply want to know more. You should always carry that serious impression left on you in Lee Chapel. But not just because the potential consequences are frightening—because you honestly care about maintaining the integrity of the system.