What the Executive Committee doesn’t do: The Phi weighs in

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In this week’s “Questioning Honor” article, What the Executive Committee doesn’t do, The Ring-Tum Phi explores the roles and responsibilities of Washington and Lee’s three judiciary bodies: the EC, the SJC, and the SFHB.

We all like to think we know the differences between these organizations. The EC deals with honor violations, the SJC deals with general misconduct, and the SFHB deals with harassment issues and the like. But are the lines drawn as clearly as we like to assume? Not exactly.

Take DUIs for example. Sure, it is a type of misconduct that isn’t directly related to lying, cheating, stealing, or the like. And, sure, it has to do with alcohol use. But driving drunk seems like a pretty clear violation of the community’s trust—especially for a community that has had its fair share of struggles with drunk driving in the past.

We are a community that strives painstakingly to promote an understanding among students that we will never commit such an infraction. We tend to trust one another enough to know that we won’t drink and drive.

When someone does, it’s that much more surprising and hurtful. Driving under the influence harms the community because it shows a blatant disregard for the hard work that’s been done to prevent such actions. It breaks the genuine trust we aim to maintain.

If an honor violation is defined as an action that “break the community’s trust,” then a DUI should certainly qualify. But, as discussed in this week’s article, the logistics are more complicated.

Dean Evans says that the EC simply doesn’t have the time to include DUIs in its jurisdiction. This is a fair argument and must be considered. But, to play devil’s advocate, why say that an Honor Violation is any action that breaches the community’s trust if the very body that decides the matter doesn’t have the time to consider all such violations?

The strongest argument comes from SJC Chair Paqui Toscano, ‘16. He argues the SJC is better equipped to handle DUIs because of the flexibility of punishment. With the EC, it’s bang or bust: you’re either found not guilty, or you’re found guilty and must immediately withdraw from the university if you choose not to proceed with an open hearing.

To Toscano’s point, the SJC has more flexibility in the kinds of punishments that can be given. This is suitable for the more complicated nature of drunk driving incidents.

Overall, this is not a cut and dry issue. Current protocol places DUIs and similar drunk driving incidents in the SJC’s jurisdiction. But this does not mean that a DUI could not just as easily qualify as an Honor Violation. According to many, it indeed does.

The most important question, however, is not how we as a community codify specific offenses. Rather, it is how well our student government reflects our values as a community.

We must always reconsider the nature of student government and ensure that it fulfills the roles we expect of it. If the student body collectively decides that DUIs do, in fact, breach our trust, the system must adjust.

No system is perfect. Not even our own.

We place the Honor System on a high pedestal at Washington and Lee, and for due cause. It is unique and remarkably effective. But that does not mean that it is infallible.

As much as we embrace the system as it is, we must always maintain a skeptical eye and look for ways to improve and strengthen it for the next generation of students.

We hope this skepticism has become a theme throughout the “Questioning Honor” series. Whether you agree or disagree with what has been said, we hope that the series has at the very least provoked a discussion or offered a different perspective.

No matter how strong the Honor System may seem at the moment, we must always seek to improve. In our student governance as in our own lives, we must remain “not unmindful of the future.”