Social honor code committee formed

For at least 117 years, Guilford students have been guided by an academic honor code as clear as it is concise: “I have been honest and have not observed any dishonesty.”

Less clear, some students believe, are guidelines for life outside the classroom: Drug use, fighting, hate crimes, overnight guests in dorms — even something seemingly as innocent as gossip.

Now a growing number of students believe that a Social Honor Code is long overdue at Guilford and they are looking into establishing one.

The idea of a social honor code has long been a topic of debate among Guilford students, but the idea gained momentum late last year after separate incidents of vandalism. A swastika was found carved into a student’s Binford Hall dorm room door in November. A month later another swastika was found painted on a trashcan outside Frank Family Science Center.

“The idea behind the social honor code is a simple belief the students shouldn’t be subjected to this kind of thing,” said Ruth deButts, a Senate representative for Binford residents who is heading a social honor committee. “We have guidelines in place for academics — that’s what the academic honor code is for. There are a lot of students who feel that now we should look at how we conduct ourselves within the Guilford community as a whole.”

Colleges have had little problems implementing academic codes of honor, but have grappled with social honor codes. Plagiarism and cheating are clearly defined. Less so are problems such as sexual harassment, racism, and underage drinking.

Should an honor code seek to punish students or guide them? Should they require students to inform on each other?

Haverford and Bryn Mawr colleges, Quaker schools like Guilford, and Elon College have honor codes that govern social interactions. But social honor codes at colleges are rare often because students are unable to find common ground on how to define what is or is not permissible behavior.

Sophomore Justin Bradley doesn’t like the idea of being told what is acceptable at Guilford.

“You’re stepping on a lot of people’s morals when you start talking about a social honor code,” said Bradley, a political science major. “Everyone has their own set of morals. It would be impossible to create a document that would cover everything everybody believes is socially responsible.”

deButts, who is heading up a Senate committee looking into the merits of a code, said any document would ultimately mirror the values of the Guilford community. Her committee has talked to dozens of students and pored over surveys submitted by students about what they would like to see in any proposed code.

“Not everyone is going to agree with what we’re doing — we know that,” said deButts. “But by talking to the whole community we’re going to get a good sense of how best to make a harmonic community.”

The fate of a social honor code at Guilford will ultimately be determined by the students, not the college.

Aaron Fetrow, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, said the college would help facilitate a social honor code and “would embrace a student-led initiative to implement a social honor code, but would clearly want the students to drive the process.”

deButts said there is no timetable for implementing an honor code. She hopes students will attend community forums — tentatively scheduled for Wednesday nights in Founders Hall — this semester so that their opinions can be heard. deButts added that anyone – students or faculty – can e-mail her their thoughts as well.

Zak Wear, a senior political science major, is part of the committee looking into an honor code. Wear said it might be difficult – if not impossible – to shape a document that speaks to every Guilford student “but it’s worth the effort because it’s important.”

“We do not want to police people’s actions,” said Wear. “There’s a sense of what defines a Guilford student and we want to capture that.