On a whim one Monday morning, my friend Max Ongbongan and I took a free hour to travel to the Special Collections and Archives in the lowest level of the D staircase of the library. There, we met Tracy and Reed, very hospitable and knowledgeable librarians, who provided us with a ton of cool information about the special collections! I was very interested in artifacts of Reed policy and returned the following week to research how the Honor Spirit/Principle/Policy/Code has evolved over time. Below is the very first volume of the school yearbook, complete with “phonetic spelling” from the original text. If you can’t stand the phonetic spelling, I did a “Too Long; Didn’t Read” version for 1915 which condenses the message a fair bit.
1915 Reed College Annual (the first yearbook), unedited, p. 69
The Honor Spirit
ONE word that has appeard prominently in discussion of the “mores” of student life at Reed College is “honor.” The idea of honor has a sharp challenge to the mind, wil and hart of the college student. Most freshmen ar not yet past the period of experience in which moral notions ar fixt; they ar stil eager for the exercise of choice in ethical questions. Honor has, moreover, a flavor of aristocracy which makes its appeal to those who ar conscius of superiority in learning. By force of these facts and from the experience of other colleges, influential members of the student body and the faculty hav taken pains to develop here an enthusiastic “Honor Spirit.”
The Honor Spirit began to take a part in the life and thought of the college before the end of the first semester. President Foster, in anticipation of the first final examinations, put the question of student conduct therein up to the members of the first clas. They voted to relieve the faculty of the burden of enforcing honesty in these tests, and agreed to make it a “point of honor” not to cheat in examinations.
With the development of student government, and the granting of authority in matters of student conduct to the Student Council, honor came to be formulated as a principle of action in all scool work. Honesty in the preparation and recitation of lessons was recognized as being of as great importance as honesty in examinations.
This attitude of the students towards the demands of college administration met with response on the part of President Foster and the faculty. At varius times during the first year, and occasionally since that time the confidence and opinion of students in matters of administrativ policy hav been askt for. Especially thru the Student Council and senior clas questions of equipment, instruction, finance, and the relations of the college to the community hav been made matters for student consideration and responsibility.
From these basic applications of the Honor Spirit in the relations of the students to the administration and instruction of the college its meaning has been extended to make it include the whole life of the college community. At varius times, in chapel and in student-body meetings, students and faculty members hav made definitions and formulations of it. In scool work the Honor Spirit requires earnestness, frankness and considerations for the rights of others in the use of library, laboratories and the like. In general conduct it includes especially respect
for property rights of persons both in and outside the college economy and care in the use of college property, the prompt payment of dets, and a regard for the reputation of the college abroad. In athletics the Honor Spirit means fair play and sportsmanship in the best sense of the word. In student government it imposes the duty of conscientious servis on the part of offis-holders, and a sense of interest in the welfare of the group on the part of individuals.
We can hardly dout the value and wisdom of the adoption and development of honor as a principle in college life. Common-sense seems to indicate that if students and faculty ar using the endowment and equipment of a college for the ends of scolarship, they wil get on better by working together than they wil by opposition. Tradition and experience tend to confrm the notion that the ends of good-felloship in a group of people with common interests and purposes ar best servd by frankness, forbearance, and sympathy. Tho primarily, perhaps, a matter of social significance, honor is not antagonistic to the interests of individuality. Honesty to self is, indeed, the first principle of honor; and the expression of the self-respect which this honesty engenders is the best way of impressing one’s in-dividuality upon society.
The important results of the Honor Spirit at Reed ar found not so much in tangible realities as in subtle atmosferic qualities. The substitutions of cooperation for distrust and suspicion on the part of students and faculty in the business of study ar not inimical to the advance of scholarship. In this as in the general social relationships those who hav had opportunities of comparison say that in Reed College the breadth of the traditional gulf between faculty and students has been definitely lessend.
The Honor Spirit has, of course, not yet attaind perfection as a force in social control. There ar some dissatisfactions, some misunderstandings, some difficulties of organized student life that honor has not obviated. The youth of the college, and lack of traditions make the matter of educating new students for ful citizenship difficult. Time may remedy this. Everything possible has not been accomplisht in four years.
The imperfections of translating the Honor Spirit into actions and motivs ar the best guarantee of its continued influence. That its applications be comprehensiv of much, and that its meanings be ritten more deeply on the minds and harts of all who may become connected with Reed is the hope of all who kno what it has alredy done.
TL;DR by your 2023 writer –
Most freshmen come into college quite young, “eager for the exercise of choice in ethical questions.” They can still learn moral lessons.
The first iteration of the Honor Spirit was created to ensure people did not cheat on their first semester finals. President Foster asked the students to vote on a solution, and they chose to put the burden of academic honesty on themselves, and made it a “point of honor” not to cheat.
As the school continued existing, honor became a “principle of action” in all school work.
When students asked the administration for advice, the president and faculty trusted student opinions, especially the opinions of the Student Council and the senior class (the inaugural Reed class).
Students and faculty wanted to define the Honor Spirit, and described it as such: (I kept the original text and spelled it with modern English rules — this is the meat of it)
- “In school work, the Honor Spirit requires earnestness, frankness, and consideration for the rights of others in the use of library, laboratories, and the like.
- In general conduct it includes especially respect for property… the prompt payment of debts, and a regard for the reputation of the college abroad.
- In athletics, the Honor Spirit means fair play and sportsmanship in the best sense of the word.
- In student government it imposes the duty of conscientious service on the part of office-holders, and a sense of interest in the welfare of the group on the part of individuals.”
Students in a group of people with common interests should treat one another with honor. Honor also includes self-honesty and self-respect.
Due to the honor policy students are generally cooperative in learning, and the “traditional gulf between faculty and students has been definitely lessened.”
They note that the honor spirit is not perfect, and hope that the influence of the Honor Spirit will continue to be significant.
1924-25 Student Handbook, unedited, p. 5
The Honor System
“An honor spirit, pervading all phases of student and faculty relations, has served to maintain a wholesome community life. There are recognized standards of community living to which members of the Reed community have pledged themselves. Though they are not codified they imply that the actions and attitudes of each individual should be guided by consideration not only for personal well-being, but for that of one’s fellows and the general welfare of the community. In all phases of college activity, every student is placed strictly upon his own honor to so order his conduct and affairs. This is an implicit trust which demands of each student that he play the game squarely with his fellows at all times. The honor spirit pervades in the dormitory as well as the classroom.
There have been many objections against a system that allows the student such freedom, however, if college should teach us anything, it should teach us how to live among our fellows in an upright and honorable way. This is an opportunity given to us by the Regents and the faculty, and we should be proud of it.*
As the fundamental basis of our community life, the Honor Spirit is a cherished tradition at Reed. Failure to observe and respect it by consciously refusing to recognize the standards of living is a breach of the trust between the 300 members of the Reed community and is subject to action by the community government which seeks to preserve the honor spirit as the basis our [sic] community life.”
*Writer note: This paragraph appears in the 1924-25 handbook, but is curiously absent from the 1925 Griffin!
So what? Well, there are many more codifications of the honor system. I will be looking for how these writings change through the years, in relation to contemporaneous events, and what the takeaways are for today’s Reed. The honor system was created by student influence, and it’s important that we make an honor system that is comprehensible and just. More is coming in the fall semester!