Recent reports of theft cast doubt on the impact of the Honor System


Lilah Kimble

The thefts were likely “crimes of opportunity,” Public Safety said in an email on Sept. 15. Even after placing warning signs on cubbies, the fitness center manager noticed unprotected items.

Taylor Elliott, Staff Writer

A recent spike in suspected thefts at the Duchossois Athletic and Recreation Center on Washington and Lee’s campus prompted the Department of Public Safety to issue a community-wide notice to be aware of potential crimes. 

“Public Safety has mentioned that these were all crimes of opportunity – it’s easy to see how quickly someone could just swipe items and keep walking,” Fitness Center Manager Patti Colliton said. “The day after Public Safety issued the alert, we had signs on our cubbies to secure valuables – I walked by, and there were three wallets sitting right on the edge of the shelf.” 

Four possible theft instances, including that of a wallet, watch, cash and credit card, were reported to Public Safety between Aug. 28 and Sept. 15, 2022. Public Safety sent out a notice of the crimes on Sept. 15, and someone has since come forward with an additional instance of theft from that same time frame, according to Public Safety. Investigations by the Lexington Police Department about the thefts are still ongoing. 

Colliton was present for four of the incidents, which occurred in the locker rooms and Fitness Center cubbies. She spoke with the individuals involved and connected them with Public Safety directly.

“There have been a few other incidents, but it has been several years. I don’t recall this many reported thefts in this short of a time, and not since our new facility has been open,” Colliton said.

First-year student Claire Coleman is not a frequent visitor to the gym but was still left uneasy by the crime notification. 

“It surprised me because of the honor system … I feel like it’s pretty secure here compared to other college campuses,” Coleman said. “Getting [the alert] made me a little more aware of leaving stuff in places.”

Her comments speak to a larger debate sparked by the reported thefts over the health of Washington and Lee’s honor system. 

While Coleman believes these incidents will not impact the system because of its long history and success, others do not share her sentiments. Director of Public Safety Ethan Kipnes said that, with a new class of students on campus, these crimes do not set the best precedent for upholding the honor system throughout campus. 

“Certainly, in the context of it being very early in a brand new academic year, that could have implications on the way people think or feel,” Kipnes said.

However, Public Safety is taking steps to ensure that the student governing body in charge of overseeing the honor system, the Executive Committee (EC), is included in the  handling of the cases. Kipnes said he had a meeting with the EC last week to follow up on any decisions being made. 

“We did give him a heads-up that we were going to be sending this message out to make sure that we got any feedback from him [and] the student body perspective,” Kipnes said. 

Kipnes also explained that it is not uncommon for his department to get spurts of activity like this in a short time frame. But he hopes the campus-wide notification sent out by the department will ward off any additional cases. 

“We send out notification [to] make it very obvious that we know about it,” Kipnes said. “Since we’ve sent out that notice, we haven’t had any more [thefts], so hopefully that means whoever’s responsible is aware we’re looking into it.”

Also included in the notice from Public Safety was a disclaimer that read, “In each of these cases, property was left unsecured and/or unattended for various periods of time,” and “thefts of property are almost always crimes of opportunity.” 

Some students felt that Public Safety was blaming the victims of the theft, while others, like Coleman, heeded it as a gentle reminder to students to be more cautious with their belongings. 

“I feel like that statement is trying to make people aware that just because we have the honor system, you shouldn’t just leave your stuff wherever all the time,” Coleman said.

Colliton echoed this message, urging students to put their names on things they bring to the fitness center, use a bag to store items in the cubbies, and lock items in the locker rooms. She also recommended that students choose to leave their wallets and other valuable items in their car or apartment while they use the fitness center. 

“[The gym] averages around 300 people in a day, and it’s very busy at certain times,” Coleman said. “We all just need to be responsible and use common sense.”