Opinion: What We Owe to Each Other

As a Reedie, I had gotten used to the words Honor Principle being tossed around in everyday life. I had heard professors urging their students to abide by the Honor Principle and not cheat, speeches from deans of departments, and the endless O-week propaganda. The Honor Principle is introduced to students right as they arrive. I remember being in “Honor Circles” during orientation week and sitting knee to knee with my fellow students rating hypothetical scenarios on a scale of honorable to dishonorable. I have sat through HA trainings talking about how it is dishonorable to smoke indoors or leave your dishes in the community sink for too long. 

In general, however, these messages were at the very least harmless and at the most ending with uplifting message of togetherness. The email Karnell McConnell-Black shared last week was damaging not only to the image of the Student Life Office, but also to the term “Honor Principle.” The Honor Principle has governed this campus for far longer than any administrator here has. Back in 1919, the Student Body constitution agreed to be governed, “by the application of the Honor Principle, which is based on the assumption that students will be guided…by their own knowledge of right and wrong.” Although in recent times, it seems as our guiding principle is being used more as a tool for administrators to talk down to students rather than for the students to hold the administration, as community members, accountable. The Honor Principle is not a doctrine enforced by some omnipotent being, it is the decisions we make in our everyday lives. I believe that it is holding the door open for the person behind you so they do not have to swipe in and putting back your dishes so the Commons workers do not have to. The Honor Principle works and is valued within our community because the students try their best to hold themselves accountable to their own ideals. Our shared accountability fails when the student body feels that they are the only ones held and holding people accountable. McConnell-Black says that his role is to “support Reed students and to help ensure that you thrive here.” I do not believe that silencing survivors’ stories plays any role in this. The “misconduct” that he discusses is largely a response to the lack of action by the college about the allegations. No survivor should have to disclose any information that they do not want to, but that does not mean that the rest of the community is not obliged to follow its own Honor Principle and try to keep others safe. While he is not obligated to understand this and may think that it is against his own Honor Principle, he cannot punish anyone solely based on his own point of view. The Reed College Guidebook website says that when students break the Honor Principle for reasons they find justifiable, they have the right to “explain their behavior, and be prepared to accept the judgment of the community’s judicial process.” Not only have students not been given the opportunity to explain the behavior, but the punishments they are being threatened with are not that of the community judicial process. Therefore, if McConnell-Black finds it necessary to “confront and address matters in keeping with Reed policies and processes,” he must engage with the accountability groups in a way he has failed to do so far. 

As we stand here today, over a 100 years after the Student Body Constitution solidified the Honor Principle, our right to be guided by our own moral compass — what we believe is right and wrong — is being overtly threatened. Watching our campus come together to protect each other during this pandemic has asserted even more the mutual respect of autonomy the student body is owed by the administration. Being a Reedie comes with a certain level of freedom that is unlike any other school, having the right to determine our own community norms on an individual level is largely unheard of. However, we were all chosen to go to this school and continue to attend knowing what was expected of us. McConnell-Black claims that some of us are “acting outside the bounds of what we have all agreed to when we joined the Reed community.” However, we must ask ourselves and McConnell-Black, what did we really agree to? 

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