Honor & transparency

Does the White Book need a facelift?


Student governance is one of the biggest points of pride at Washington and Lee. Students are elected to serve as members of the Executive Committee and the Student Judicial Council. Students help administer programs like Traveller, Fancy Dress and Mock Convention. And students have the ability to invite speakers to campus through Contact Committee. Students are even invited to serve on committees discussing issues like third-year housing.

And most importantly, students get to decide on any changes made to the document that governs the entire honor system – The White Book. Every three years, a committee of students is selected to review The White Book.

2015 is one of those years.

Many students may wonder: why change anything about The White Book? It represents a tradition of history established by Robert E. Lee that we don’t want to change.

The Ring-tum Phi’s Editorial Board believes there is one detail in the White Book that students should want to change. When a Student Body Hearing happens in Lee Chapel, students are not allowed to repeat any facts regarding the case outside of the building. This means that  publications like The Ring-tum Phi, The Rockbridge Report and inGeneral, which report fair and unbiased news and feature stories, cannot run stories with any facts about the possible breaches in the honor system that are appealed to the student body.

This may seem trivial. Student Body Hearings rarely happen. Many students graduate from W&L and never see an open trial. We are thankful for this.

But there is a greater issue at hand. Transparency.

If we are going to distinguish W&L for its student governing principles, then we want to ensure that students have a say in these decisions that affect our lives during our four years here as undergraduates.

As a paper “by the students for the students,” we strive to accurately report stories on the issues that occur on campus every week. We do this to inform students and hold officials and governing bodies accountable for their decisions.

We want to answer the questions about what constitutes a violation of our honor system. We want to gain a better understanding of the gray areas in the system. We want to make sure that the Executive Committee is fairly judging the students who are accused of honor violations. We want to be able to show students what types of cases might make a student appeal a guilty verdict through a Student Body Hearing.

Student Body Hearings are one of the only outlets to see the judicial process for the honor system in the works. They are meant to be open trials. The Ring-tum Phi believes that it is important to accurately document these open events to ensure that the community is aware of how the system is currently operating and potentially provoke conversations on positive changes that can be made to the system.

In the year 2015, we believe that there are even greater consequences if we can’t cover these open hearings. We have smartphones glued to our hands and we are constantly communicating via Facebook and Twitter. Yes, students aren’t allowed to bring these phones inside the Chapel during the trials. But can the school really keep 1,800 students from talking about the trials outside the Chapel and spreading rumors via social media about what happened inside the closed doors?

Rumors are bound to spread and the story of the trial is likely to be twisted as a result. Do we really want this to happen? Wouldn’t it be much more beneficial to have a newspaper accurately report the facts so students know the truth?

Robert E. Lee intended for students to determine how the honor system operates. We certainly aren’t the same school that we were 100 years ago. While we honor our past, we are “not unmindful of the future.” We should ensure that our guiding documents reflect present social norms.

2015 is the time to set a standard of transparency on campus. 2015 is the time to update The White Book.

Keep an eye out for stories on the review of The White Book over the next couple of months. The Ring-tum Phi encourages discussions on the book through letters to the editor, and we hope that the committee will foster open discussions on the review.