State of Sewanee: On the concept of honor

Alexa Fults (C’21) addresses the student body. Photo courtesy of Fults.

By Alexa S. Fults, Chair of the Honor Council
Contributing Writer

Dear friends, 

Before I try to convince you that cheating on your final exams is not the move, I want to say on behalf of the Honor Council that you are all in our thoughts and prayers. This is not at all how any of us envisioned spending the final days of our Easter semester, and the Honor Council understands how difficult it has been to learn to say: Behold how good it is when brothers and sisters dwell together over Zoom. 

Many things have changed in the world. We fear for the safety of our families. We worry about preserving our GPA in an academic environment neither we nor our professors signed up for. We struggle to hit ‘join with video’ at 9:00 a.m. in our pajamas while the coffee is still brewing. It is true; Sewanee was not built for online classes. 

But Sewanee was built to cultivate within us the higher ideals of honor, integrity, and introspection, which will carry us well beyond the gates. COVID-19 may have robbed us of our spring in Sewanee, but nothing can take Sewanee out of us.

The lessons we have learned during our time on the Mountain do not leave us once we pass through those gates. When you ‘tap the roof’ and pick up your Sewanee Angel, you are carrying with you the spirit of Sewanee. You may feel a sense of helplessness as you try to study for your final exams and find yourself, three hours later, lost in a wave of Tik Toks. You may be tempted to brush off your exams entirely. You may have even forgotten the Honor Code exists.

Given the state of the world, it is easy to see how impossible it may feel to maintain any semblance of the academic integrity we knew at Sewanee. But this is not what Sewanee has built us for. Our time on the Mountain has built us to become what Vice-Chancellor McCardell has referred to as being ‘of Sewanee.’ If we are to call ourselves ‘of Sewanee,’ we cannot forget our traditions, our spirit, or our honor come hell or high water or global pandemic. 

I have carried the title ‘Madam Chair’ for nearly two years now. To me, the most important part of the Honor Code isn’t even the Code itself. It’s the section preceding the Code, where someone much wiser than I added the words Honor is an ideal and an obligation... Now, that might seem odd. “You mean the Chair of the Honor Council thinks there’s something more important than the rules? Yes, I do. The only thing more important than the rules are the reasons behind the rules.

My job, and our Council’s job, is to enforce the Honor Code. I don’t view enforcement as only enforcing the rules. If I am going to convince my fellow students that they shouldn’t lie, cheat, or steal, I must first enforce, or reinforce, why it matters. We often talk about what the Code tells us not to do. What we rarely ever discuss as a community is what the Code tells us to do. Honor is an ideal and an obligation. The responsibility of protecting our special community of trust lies with all of us.

Ours is unique in that it is one of very few Honor Codes written and upheld entirely by students. We write it. We sign it. We live it. Every single one of us made a promise to our friends, neighbors, professors, and classmates that we would uphold our Code. The integrity of our degrees is at stake. If we are to become ‘of Sewanee,’ we must first join centuries of students who came before us in standing up for what is right, living with integrity, and practicing honor. 

I’ve made a habit of asking you to remember this: There is no problem or issue within Sewanee that cannot be resolved by those who are ‘of Sewanee.’ Sewanee has prepared us to climb Mountains. And we cannot allow the mountain we face today, unprecedented as it may seem, to take our honor, our integrity, and ‘our Sewanee’ away from us.

No, Sewanee was not built for online classes. But Sewanee has built us to tackle any obstacle we may face beyond the gates with honor and integrity. The expectations laid out in the Code are high, and that is because, by the time you become ‘of Sewanee,’ you are a cut above the rest. Sewanee expects this of us. And Sewanee believes in us. 

Alexa S. Fults C’21
Chair of the Honor Council 

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