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The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

White Book review committee releases proposed amendments

The new amendments aim to increase accountability for the Executive Committee
The White Book is a document that provides a written framework for the Honor System. All students are required to sign the book upon their entrance to the university. Photo by Aiden Kelsey, ’27

Proposed amendments to the Washington and Lee White Book sparked concerns over data privacy.

If approved, the amendments would use demographic data as a way to achieve equitable treatment for all students. However, in a town hall on March 25, students raised questions regarding how that information would be collected and stored.

The town hall was hosted by the White Book Review Committee (WBRC), a group appointed by W&L’s student-run Executive Committee (EC) once every three years. The Review Committee’s role is to “thoroughly examine all aspects of the Honor System,” according to the White Book, a document that provides a written framework for the system.

This year, that examination included amendments requiring that the EC collect data on personal information — including race, religion, and national or ethnic origin — of all students accused of an Honor Violation (HV). WBRC members explained in the town hall that the goal is to hold the EC accountable.

In the past, no data had been collected on such demographic information, WBRC member Sam Haines, ’25, said. Haines said that tracking these statistics will allow future review committees to determine whether the EC is engaging in discriminatory behaviors.

Virginia Military Institute changed its honor code in 2022 after an investigation found that Black students were expelled at a higher rate. University of Virginia eliminated its single-sanction rule that same year, with some proponents arguing that it treated students of color unfairly.

WBRC chair Margaret Thompson, ’24, said that data collection is only the “first step.” From there, future review committees can use the information to determine whether further anti-discriminatory action is necessary.

However, students worried that recording such statistics could intrude on the privacy of accused students. Drew Thompson, ’25, specifically referenced socioeconomic status, which is something many people might want to keep private. Thompson said that giving the EC access to such information could lead to breaches of confidentiality.

In response, committee member Carter Gleason, ’27, said that if the amendment passes, the EC will be obligated to collect data in the “least invasive way possible.” This would likely mean pulling information from the Student Affairs office rather than asking students directly, Gleason said.

Gleason also said that the various data sets will remain unlinked. In other words, the statistics on each demographic factor will exist within their own separate bubbles, making it more difficult to tie details to a specific individual. But community members noted that the relatively small number of honor investigations would make it easy to match data to people.

Other proposed amendments feature changes to the wording of the White Book. For instance, the WBRC wants to change the phrase “Honor System” to “community of trust” in Article I. Committee Member Aliya Gibbons, ’26, explained that this language more directly expresses the end goal of the Honor System, calling the system “a means to an end.”

Also in Article I, the revised White Book would feature a clause providing examples of potential honor violations, including “lying, cheating, and stealing.” The same wording appeared in the White Book for decades until being removed in 2018.

Thompson clarified that the goal of reintroducing that language was not to codify the Honor System. Instead, her committee wanted to provide a general framework of what might constitute an Honor Violation for uncertain students.

“We wanted to leave the door open while also trying to alleviate a little bit of the anxiety” about what might or might not be an violation, Thompson said.

Further proposed amendments include requiring an “Honor Education” component during First-Year Orientation (Article II), allowing “individuals offering support to the accused student” to break confidentiality (Article IV), and modifying the procedure for joint honor hearings (Article VII).

In a year when candidates for all three EC officer positions ran uncontested, amendments to the White Book could represent the only way for students to have their voices heard in the Honor System.

A complete list of proposed amendments was emailed to students on March 24. An email sent the following day instructs students to contact Thompson or EC President Martha Ernest, ’24, with any questions.

In order for the amendments to pass, they must be approved by two separate votes of the EC, with one week between the two votes. Thompson said on Apr. 7 that the voting is currently underway, and the new White Book will be finalized by the beginning of next school year.

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    Thomas G Andrew JrApr 12, 2024 at 2:17 pm

    I’m an alumnus (1963A) and far removed from the realities of college life these days. Still, dishonesty is dishonesty regardless of race, creed, color, etc. Unless there is verifiable evidence of some form of bias (any kind of bias) in the working of the Honor System ,I suggest you leave it alone. This sounds like a fishing expedition hoping to find some evidence of wrong-doing because it has been alleged or proven somewhere else.