By Sophia Henderson
Now that Charlie Rose’s honorary degree has been revoked, it seems that we as a community stand at a crossroads. The #MeToo movement has garnered much attention in the past year, and Sewanee still has some catching up to do.
As members of a small and close-knit academic community, it is incumbent for us to ask ourselves what it means to live in such a community and to be effective stewards of this place. Sewanee is unique in our traditions, from gowns to the Honor Code to class dress. Our predecessors have passed on to us the importance of honor, and this community is one of tradition.
Unfortunately, it seems another tradition this institution has maintained is an inability to take sexual assault seriously. If our institution is founded upon honor and wishes to uphold these ideals, we need to reconcile the glaring inconsistencies between the ways in which our institution regards violations of the Honor Code and the perpetuation of sexual assault.
Last week, the Leadership Coalition (the Speak Up Sewanee group which formed in response to the initial decision not to revoke Charlie Rose’s honorary degree) released a list of 10 demands in the wake of the revocation of Charlie Rose’s honorary degree. In this list of demands, they explain that a forgotten citation in a paper and an essay purchased online to be submitted as one’s own are given the same punishment under the current system. Both can be punished with suspension.
The severity of these two infractions is clearly different. Yet, it seems that our institution is more concerned with forgotten citations than dealing with the problem of sexual assault on campus. The initial decision not to revoke Charlie Rose’s honorary degree made this quite clear.
The outrage on campus surrounding this decision stemmed from something larger than the decision itself. It was as though the decision cemented the unfortunate truth many of us already suspected: Sewanee cares more about protecting individuals in power than it does about victims of sexual assault.
On a campus as small as Sewanee’s, many students know individuals found guilty of sexual assault are still members of the campus community, allowed to attend and graduate with a Sewanee degree. Yet, individuals who unintentionally forgot a citation in a paper can be and are suspended from Sewanee by the Honor Council. This constitutes a clear ethical contradiction, in which a violation of MLA formatting is punished more harshly than the violation of another human being.
As freshmen, we dressed up and filed eagerly into All Saints’ Chapel with the other members of our incoming class to sign the Honor Code. We promised to uphold the ideals of honor: not to lie, cheat, or steal. We learned the maxim of “Ecce Quam Bonum” (“Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live together in unity”). But it becomes more difficult to trust in these traditions and maxims about who we are as a community when there are adjudicated perpetrators of sexual assault allowed to remain on campus.
In short, the issue of sexual assault on Sewanee’s campus as well as other campuses around the country is a complex one, and it cannot be addressed completely in the span of one article. But one thing is all too clear: a community rooted in honor is one which does not tolerate sexual assault. Sewanee needs to reconcile the discrepancy between its treatment of lesser infractions of the Honor Code and treatment of violations as severe as sexual assault.