Why I am on Honor Council…by Sarah Canavan

Since my appointment to Honor Council in the spring of 2015, I have been asked why I joined, several times. I want to approach this blog entry with that question in mind, but, I want to answer it by discussing two topics that have helped me answer the question for myself. First, I want to explore how our community’s honor principle is disturbed by federal mandates for higher education institutions receiving federal funding. Second, if our student autonomy is a function of our honor principle, what can the community, the Honor Council and myself, in my capacity as Community Rights Subcommittee Chair, do to protect that autonomy?

The first topic here might seem out of left field. But, my discovery of the effect of federal mandates for colleges on the Honor Principle was a real catalyst for my personal understanding of honor at Reed. It happened like this; I was having a conversation with a fellow student government member about the Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) Policy at Reed. He had mentioned the policy to an alum who then recounted that in their time at Reed, there was no AOD Policy. The alum recalled that students used drugs with curiosity, due diligence and with honor in mind. My friend and I began to discuss the introduction of the AOD Policy and speculate as to its origins. I became exhilarated with the political and institutional implications of our hypothesis and decided to do more research. What I found was truly scintillating and I kinda want to thesis on this, but for the purposes of this blog entry, I’ll just say it has a lot do with the The Clery Act, a federal statute that was signed into law in 1990. The code requires that any federally funded school must be able to deliver crime statistics reports on an annual basis to the U.S. Department of Education, or risk losing funding. As one of its several sections, The Clery Act requires that the school must submit,

A statement of policy regarding the possession, use, and sale of alcoholic beverages and enforcement of State underage drinking laws and a statement of policy regarding the possession, use, and sale of illegal drugs and enforcement of Federal and State drug laws and a description of any drug or alcohol abuse education programs

If we remember the alum’s sentiment about Reed students using recreational drugs honorably, a Reed world with no AOD’s, then we can imagine a campus where illegal drug-related activities were taking place, perhaps with the medical or disciplinary guidance of campus resources, but certainly not producing a deliverable data-set of illegal activities. The AOD Policy at Reed was introduced and passed in 1993. I want to make it explicitly clear that while I am drawing attention to a chronological sequence of the federal and Reed policies, it would be preemptive to confirm a positive correlation between them. I think the language of the AOD Policy itself makes the impetus for its creation quite clear. However, with that said – what does the AOD Policy implicate for honor in our community? This question has been the most useful way I have found to experiment with my sense of honor. Combine that with the fact that I tend to think or logic economically, and I see the relationship between an enforceable policy and the Honor Principle as a conflict in incentives.

This concerns me. When those outside the community ask me about Reed, I often recount the amount of student autonomy, activism and involvement as a defining characteristic. The ability to govern ourselves is facilitated by the Honor Principle. But, the Honor Principle works because it is something intangible and undefined that we actively stew on for the course of our time at Reed. Through thought experiments, like my own with the AOD Policy, we engage in an individualized philosophical enterprise designed to build a collective good. When external forces, such as federal mandates, like the very recent Violence Against Women Act, change the scripting of our campus policies – for example, the spring 2015 changes to our DHSM and Title IX policy – they have implications for honor within our community. Being on Honor Council puts me in a position to promote the vitality of honor in this community and I get to channel my concerns into real engagement. That engagement is done through my position as Community Rights Subcommittee Chair.

To explain that role, here’s a beautiful summary written by Frankie Breedlove, current Educational Subcommittee Chair on Honor Council:

Community Rights Subcommittee: The community rights subcommittee (CRS) is a little-known gem. In a nutshell the community right subcommittee takes a case through the Honor Process on behalf of the community. What does that mean? It means that if a potential violation of the Honor Principle occurs but it affects a whole community as opposed to an individual it might be an appropriate case for CRS. CRS will take a case if it is a more appropriate body to move forward with the case than any individual in particular. The CRS can choose to attempt informal or formal mediation or even take the case to J-Board should it be appropriate. The CRS chair can even investigate a case by interviewing relevant witnesses.”

I believe that Reed is special to all of us for our own reasons. If you know me at all,* you understand why Reed is so special to me – I feel great privilege being here. To quote former SB prez, Danielle Juncal ’15, “I came to Reed and found a place that embraced me. I wanted to embrace it back.” When I see the quad full of buzzing tables at student activity fair and a full house at signator training, I am inspired and enlivened by the amount of autonomy and involvement in this community. Analytical and impassioned discussions with friends, like the one I mentioned above are (sometimes painfully) commonplace. Holding CRS Chair allows me to embrace the community. We have so much to protect, and that is why I am honored to be on Honor Council.

* If you don’t know me at all, please come by my Honor Council office hours between 6-7pm every Thursday and introduce yourself! I’d love to know you.

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