The two major principles upon which the system is based are: the principle that students have the right and the obligation to govern themselves, and the belief that all students should be encouraged to develop and maintain personal integrity and responsibility.Armfield 3
The Honor System has a long history at Davidson College. It was reportedly adopted on two beliefs. Firstly, according to archival records, Davidson faculty believed that students rebelled more when told what to do by their professors. A governing principle thus became that students should have the right and obligation to govern themselves while remaining committed to the ideals of honor and integrity. “The sense of obligation felt by many students to act fairly is weakened when the honesty of all is implicitly questioned by the distrust of supervisors” (Armfield 3). The second foundation for the Honor System was the belief that students recognized and deserved personal responsibility for their actions. Responsibility, despite the use of “personal” before it, can be thought of as a social process: it is conferred onto and taken up relationally and can be thought of as actually providing agency and subjecthood to individuals. This responsibility is also rooted in a particular masculinist logic (Griffin et al, 2012). As an all-male institution until 1972, we should recognize how gendered logic operates within Davidson’s conception of responsibility and integrity. According to the archives, the College saw the Honor System as a useful tool to develop its students’ sense of duty.
Though the system has evolved over the years (For the history of the code, see our Davidson Timeline [link]), this investment in students’ “moral character” has been touted as a characteristic from its origins up to the Honor System as it is today. For a full outline of the 2019-2020 Davidson Honor System (as well as the Student Code of Responsibility), see the Student Handbook pgs. 2-20 (link). As the system evolved, the Honor Council was created, consisting of an elected group of students who serve on hearings for infractions of Davidson’s Honor Code.
The elements of the Honor Council closely parallel the elements of the legal system. The Honor Council is composed of Student Solicitors (similar to the prosecutors), Defense Advisors (similar to a defense attorney), 30 council members (similar to a jury), the Vice-Chair, and the Chair of the Honor Council. The Honor Council is responsible for determining the outcome of honor code infractions that are “fair to the student, fair to the community, and upholds the code” (Clawson). When cases are brought to the honor council, they follow a specific process that begins with the Student Solicitors.
Dean of Students: The Dean of Students is the first point of contact when reporting a case. Anyone can contact the Dean of Students to examine a potential honor code violation — students, deans, professors, any member of the Davidson community. Cases must come through the Dean of Students’ office before the Student Solicitors can begin their investigation period. If there is a burden of proof, then the Dean of Students will contact the Student Solicitors.
Student Solicitors: Voted on by the student body every spring, these students act like prosecutors in that they determine if a set of circumstances meet the criteria for an “honor code violation,” and then start to build the case using “clear and convincing evidence” as the burden of proof. The solicitors will place a charge and the Dean of Students contacts the student if there is enough burden of proof.
- The honor council tries to stay away from terms like “accuse” or “guilty”. Instead, they use terms like “responsibility”, “responsible”, or “not responsible”. These phrases are considered “more equitable,” and aim to develop some distance between honor code proceedings and the larger legal or criminal justice system. These terms, however, do still confer deviance or failure to meet the established norms, and often confer punishment of some sort. The use of the word responsible not only connects the individual to the infraction but also the community.
Then the student will meet with the Student Solicitor and the Defense Advisors. The Defense Advisor is parallel to a legal defense attorney. Also voted on by the student body every spring, their role is to support the student, whether they are responsible or not responsible, and serve as their advocates during the Honor Council process.
Hearing: After a series of meetings, the Honor Council will then convene a hearing. The hearing consists of six council members chosen out of the thirty total council members, in addition to the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Honor Council, who hear the cases presented by both the Student Solicitors and the Defense Advisers. The Chair and the Vice-Chair have no voting powers, operating as the facilitators or moderators of the hearing.
- During the hearing, the student is asked questions by the Student Solicitors, the Defense Advisors, and the Council members about how and when the incident transpired, why it happened, and any extenuating or mitigating circumstances that relate to the case.
Deliberation: After the hearing, the council members deliberate the questions and the facts of the case, facilitated by the chair and vice-chair. This is when the Honor Council will come up with the recommended sanctions if the student is responsible.
- Sanctions for honor code infractions range from educational, restorative, and consequential. Educational sanctions increase knowledge of the topic, self-reflection and self-awareness. Restorative sanctions help students understand how their actions impacted other people in the community. Consequential sanctions try to prevent violations in the future. Sanctions are recommended by the honor council and a full list of them can be found in the Davidson College Student Handbook.
- The use of the word “sanction” in honor code violations is very interesting. Similar to avoiding the word “guilty”, the use of “sanction” distances the Honor Council proceedings from the larger legal or criminal justice system. But, “sanction” is still rooted in the criminal justice system because the word implies punishment and the threat of punishment. Replacing “punishment” with “sanctions” in honor code justice proceedings does not change the impact of the word. Punishment or sanctions used to teach the person what they did was wrong is still rooted in the carceral logic of innocence and guilt.