Guest Post: The Honor Code – Past, Present, and Future

Hi everyone! Today we have another guest post from recent graduate, Emily Chazen. Emily ‘18 double majored in English and Religion, and she is now off to Harvard University where she will get her J.D. and her masters in theological studies. Emily was incredibly involved in the Haverford community, including but not limited to being co-chair of Special Plenary Committee, Haverford Law ReviewHaverford Review, and was an HCO (Honor Council Orienteer) last year. We reached out to her to give an overview of how the Honor Code has changed and what conversations occurred in the process. Here’s what she wrote:


The Honor Code: Past, Present, and Future

As Haverford students, we seek an environment in which members of a diverse community can live together, interact, and learn from one another in ways that protect both personal freedom and community standards. For our diverse community to prosper, we must embrace our differences and be mindful of our varied perspectives and backgrounds; this goal is only possible if students seek mutual understanding by means of respectful communication. The Honor Code holds us accountable for our words and actions, and guides us in resolving conflicts by engaging each other in dialogue.

So begins the Honor Code, the guiding document of Haverford College. Constantly in flux and continuously being shaped by the lived experiences of students on Haverford’s campus, the Code not only reflects the aspirational goals of Haverford students, but also seeks to inculcate a certain, respectful way of being with one another in a continually-expanding, vibrantly heterogeneous and diverse community.  On some level—and as I’m sure you heard some iteration of this on your tour of Haverford—the Honor Code fundamentally looks to instill in students a sense of trust, concern, and respect by encouraging student self-governance in a variety of ways. It is a two-part Honor Code: there is both an Academic and Social Code. Overall, the Code creates an academic experience wherein students are entrusted to take unproctored, take-home, and/or self-scheduled exams; it empowers students to confront (read: engage in a respectful dialogue with) one another when experiencing potential conflict; and it strives to foster a general ethos of Quakerly kindness across campus.

Of course, the Honor Code—as a written document, one which prescribes a series of values and yet may never fully ensure the actual implementation of those values on a daily basis—is far from perfect. For some students, the Code serves as a constant reminder of the community’s inability to adequately address their experiences of intolerance and inequity on campus. For others, it encapsulates the general desire for students to be and do better, to embrace academic honesty and try their best to uphold respect within the community. Still others hold that the Honor Code is a vestigial remnant of a Quaker past that grants us the privileges of academic freedom and that matters little otherwise. Though what I wrote here is slightly reductive and doesn’t adequately address the nuanced interactions that students have with the Code, I hope that I provided here makes one thing clear: that every Haverford student has a different relationship to the Honor Code.

It’s important to remember, then, that the goal of the Honor Code is not and has never been to be perfect. I’d even venture so far as to suggest that the Code can never be perfect. That said, there remains a sense on campus that the Honor Code can continue to develop and improve. And so, twice a year—once in the fall and once in the spring—the campus congregates in the Gardner Integrated Athletic Center (GIAC) for a process known as Plenary. Plenary, which is arguably where student-voice manifests itself most clearly, is the time of the year when students come together to discuss either the Alcohol Policy (in the fall) or the Honor Code (in the spring). Prior to each Plenary, students have the opportunity to propose amendments to the Honor Code; at Plenary, the community votes on each of the amendments as well as the document in question. It is important, however, to note that Plenary cannot begin until Plenary reaches quorum, the presence of a certain percentage of students within the space of the Plenary session. For much of Haverford’s history, quorum was 50 percent of the student body; as of Spring 2018, it is now 66 percent of the student body.

The 2017-2018 academic year was a rather tumultuous one for the Honor Code. In the Fall of 2017, students holding historically-marginalized identities on Haverford’s campus led a protest of Plenary called #AllStrugglesOneCode. Their goal was to encourage “productive dialogues around identity and other issues that students with marginalized identities face regularly at Haverford.” The efficacy of the protest was particularly rooted in its ability to block quorum: by standing outside of Plenary, the students participating in the protest demonstrated how students of color, queer students, students with disabilities, students from low income backgrounds, first generation college students, and international students form a critical coalition—if not the very foundation—of the Haverford community. Following the #AllStrugglesOneCode protest, they hoped to see:

  1. A discussion of the Social Honor Code that placed the voices of students from marginalized backgrounds at the fore
  2. Active collaboration between Students’ Council, Honor Council, and Customs committees with the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA)   
  3. Increased community support and attendance at special events (…and not just parties!!) and discussions that affinity groups / organizations hold for all students
  4. Students’ Council support for improved resources and involvement for affinity groups and community housing
  5. Improved administrative and institutional support for faculty so that they “are better equipped and funded to support the needs of marginalized students.”

(Source: #AllStrugglesOneCode Statement)

The #AllStrugglesOneCode protest offered a strong contingency plan: should their demands not be adequately met by their peers, the faculty, and the administration, the participants would not consent to the ratification of the Honor Code in the Spring.

Come Spring 2018, little had arguably changed. While the Student Council Co-Presidents had managed to talk to the protestors and encourage some of them to join Fall Plenary so that we could reach quorum, campus more broadly failed to demonstrate any sense of renewed energy or commitment to the goals that #AllStrugglesOneCode had offered. Following Spring Plenary, the student body—mostly citing the failures of the Social Honor Code—largely voted against the ratification of the Honor Code (for all of the reasons offered, see here. And for a general summary, see here).  

After the Honor Code’s failure to ratify, the process that began was a Special Plenary. Per the Students’ Constitution, 40 percent of the student body must commit to attending a Special Plenary in order to create one; approximately three hours after Honor Council sent out the commitment form, 40 percent of the student body had committed to attend. Subsequently, Students’ Council and Honor Council created a Special Plenary Committee (SPC) of ten students to compile feedback from the community, to write amendments, and to propose them at Special Plenary.

Seeking to address the general issues occurring on campus, the Special Plenary Committee brought six amendments. An additional two amendments were brought by two passionate students who were not members of the Committee. The amendments were as follows:

  1. Plenary Scheduling: ensure that Plenary could not be scheduled at the same time as a religious or cultural holiday
  2. Confrontation: reintroduce confrontation as a process of self-healing for harmed parties with the inclusion of active bystanders and an emphasis on addressing the needs of students from backgrounds historically underrepresented on Haverford’s campus
  3. Social Honor Code: acknowledge the active role that the Social Honor Code must play in protecting students from marginalized backgrounds; clarify that dialogue between students should be safe, inclusive, and respectful; ask for continued reflection on the Honor Code and its values
  4. Academic Honor Code: incorporate aspects of the Social Code into the Academic Code in order to recognize power imbalances that students experience in the classroom
  5. Quorum and Accessibility: increase quorum from 50 percent to 66 percent; make Plenary a more accessible space for students with mental health concerns, claustrophobia, and/or other concerns surrounding accessibility
  6. Day of Community Reflection: create a day that will allow students to reflect on issues pertaining to the Code and community
  7. Gender Neutral Bathrooms: support the Presidents’ office initiative to increase access to all-gender bathrooms
  8. Presidential Powers: give the President of the College more freedom in responding to amendments passed by the student body at Plenary

All of the resolutions except #6, the Day of Community Reflection, passed at Special Plenary. Overall, though, the Honor Code was ratified by the student body at Special Plenary. For the complete list of changes proposed at Special Plenary, see here.

However, following concerns surrounding the intersections of Title IX and the Academic Honor Code, the President of the College was in a position where he unfortunately could not accept the new resolution. As a result, SPC, Students’ Council, Honor Council, a committee of faculty members, the Provost of the College, and the President of the College came together to revise the Academic Code. Subsequently, a Town Hall meeting was held, wherein students, faculty, staff, and administrators came together to discuss the implications of what was termed the “new-new” Honor Code (the minutes for the Town Hall are available here). After that, a Digital Plenary—the first (and potentially last) of its kind—was held. 943 students voted for the ratification of the new-new Honor Code; 113 voted for its ratification with objections; 24 voted against its ratification. In total, about 90 percent of the student body present on campus at the time the vote was held voted on the Honor Code; 88 percent voted in favor of the new Honor Code. On May 4, it was approved by President Benston.


THE HONOR CODE FOR THE 2018-2019 ACADEMIC YEAR CAN BE FOUND HERE: I also posted it some time ago in the Haverford College Class of 2022 Class Page. Please note—it’s different than the one you originally signed, and so it’s truly important that you at least glance it over!

For more details on what occurred this year regarding the Honor Code, here are some Haverford Clerk articles:
OCTOBER 7, 2017: New Resolution Hopes to Make Plenary More Accessible and Inclusive
OCTOBER 8, 2017: Planned Protest at Plenary Seeks to Prevent Quorum
NOVEMBER 12, 2017: [Fall] Plenary Wrap-Up
NOVEMBER 12, 2017: Controversial Athletic Amendment Narrowly Defeated at Plenary
NOVEMBER 15, 2017: First-Years React to Plenary
DECEMBER 11, 2017: Community Members Meet to Discuss President Benston’s Rejection of
    Plenary Resolutions
FEBRUARY 17, 2018: [Spring] Plenary Preview: The JSAAPP Resolution
FEBRUARY 21, 2018: [Spring] Plenary Round-up
MARCH 5, 2018: The Honor Code Failed. What now?
MARCH 17, 2018: My First Take-Home Test—Reflections on the Honor Code
APRIL 1, 2018: Meet the Special Plenary Committee!
APRIL 5, 2018: Why I Don’t Go to Plenary
APRIL 7, 2018: Special Plenary Preview
APRIL 15, 2018: Special Plenary Round-Up
APRIL 19, 2018: Honor Code Expires, is Replaced by Administrations ‘Interim Procedures’
APRIL 24, 2018: Old Honor Code Reinstated as Interim Measure
APRIL 28, 2018: Check Your Privilege!: On Process and Digital Plenary
APRIL 29, 2018: Special Plenary Committee Hosts a Town Hall for Students, Faculty, and Staff
APRIL 30, 2018: What are the Legal Concerns with the New Honor Code?
MAY 1, 2018: Message from Kim Benston Regarding Digital Plenary


So what now? What does all this mean for you, as an incoming First Year?

While I recognize that my graduation from Haverford means that my opinion doesn’t necessarily matter—after all, my voice shouldn’t hold much sway, particularly if the community is doing things that it feels will make it better—I do have a few hopes. First, I hope that some passionate students will revisit the Day of Community Reflection resolution that was rejected, that they’ll revamp and improve it (with particular emphasis on incorporating the voices of staff and the needs of international students), and that it will be ratified by the student body in the future. I hope that students will try their absolute best to live up to the Honor Code, and that if/when they see it failing, they’ll serve as active bystanders and intervene to help their peers. I hope that Haverford will continue to hold Town Halls to bring together members of the community and increase overall collaboration. I hope that the entire community will continue working towards building an inclusive and safe Haverford for students from marginalized backgrounds. But most importantly, I really do hope that I look back on the Honor Code in a few years and find that it’s radically different from the one I left behind—not because I don’t think we’ve done good work as a community, but because I think what we started this year was only the beginning. My biggest hope, though, is that students (and particularly the next generation of Haverford students) realize that the biggest takeaway from this year is that the Honor Code can always be better, and that students really do have the power to strive to make Haverford a better place.