State of Sewanee

Pictured: Margaret Dupree (C’19). Photo courtesy of LinkedIn.

By Margaret Dupree
Contributing Writer

I served as the Chair of the Honor Council from April 2017 to December 2018. Over the years I have seen students who lie, cheat, and steal. I have signed paperwork that gave punishments ranging from community service hours for fake IDs all the way to academic suspensions. Here is what I learned along the way and what I think you should know.

The Honor Council members are students. We live on this campus, participate in activities outside of the Honor Council, and are interested in a great deal of things, but we do lack certain markers of diversity that are important.

The most important is that we are not racially diverse. We know. Over the years I have heard criticisms about the Honor Council’s “whiteness.” As a group, we are not blind to our skin color. While a handful of students of color have served on the Council and provided a different perspective from their experiences on campus, we do not assume that a “token POC” makes us the representative body we should be.

I can only imagine that to be on the other side of the table in front of a group of your “peers” without seeing a face you are able to descriptively relate with, would be a harrowing experience. After all, if I went before an Honor Council comprised entirely of straight white men from the South, I would feel a similar way.

Racial representation is a far more complicated subject on which I have little authority to speak (other than knowing we need more of it), but I wanted to make clear that as a group of students who share this campus, we know when important angles of student life are missing.

However, the Honor Council is diverse in other ways, which is a positive step in making the elected body more representative of the conglomerate. Since my time on the Council we went from a majority male to a majority female, and that includes the leadership too. I was the first female Chair since 2013. By the time the class of 2020 graduates, all Chairs will have been women.

Furthermore, students on the Honor Council come from all sorts of socioeconomic and geographical backgrounds. Some are local, some come from big cities, the North, the South, the West Coast, and even across the pond. There have been firefighters, EMTs, musicians, Stirling’s employees, varsity athletes, and all sorts of majors. In that way, we all lend a particular experience in understanding the cases that come before us.

The Honor Council is elected. We were not appointed from some archaic system unknown to the student body. We are not police officers, we are not judges, we are not administrators. You need to actively choose who you want to be your representative, because, while I hope a great majority of you never have to find yourself before the entire Council, if you did, what kinds of faces, personalities, individuals would you want to see?

While transparency for individual cases is prohibited, that doesn’t stop us from wanting to be transparent about the Code’s processes and what we think needs fixing. We are people with a particular expertise on this century old document. If you have opinions or questions, we want to hear them and work on them with you.

We are bound by the Code, which for all its intricacies and beauties, is imperfect, inflexible, and unyielding. We have to follow every step. Sometimes, the step required is to suspend someone. We don’t make that decision lightly, ever.

We know what suspension means for people. It means they have to forfeit a semester’s work, a huge financial commitment, and that they have to leave this place. To vote to do that is intensely difficult. To sit and watch someone get a suspension notice is harder still. To verbally give it, and to put your own name and signature on the paper is by far the hardest.

The Honor Council is passionate about reforms that we believe are important, and we need your help. The Code belongs to all of us, equally. My hope is that the criticisms come from a place of wanting to see the Code survive, and I believe they do. Young people, particularly in this country, need to practice the delicate, complex, and momentous process of reviewing the documents that guide our lives and values and decide if they are adequate to face the challenges of today and many tomorrows.

I hope this campus will experience this civic task, and take the feeling of affecting change with them past the Domain gates. The principles of democracy on which this nation and the Honor Code were founded can only be fully realized if we take ownership of these fundamentals with the hope and virtue to make them better.