Student leaders at Harvey Mudd College (HMC) are planning to re-examine the school’s Honor Code and discuss possible changes at an event they hope to hold next semester. The idea for a campus-wide forum on the state of the Honor Code was proposed earlier this semester, after a spate of alcohol policy violations during the school’s dry week raised questions about how well the campus culture matches the code’s disciplinary rules.
HMC’s Honor Code, a set of rules that all students agree to abide by and help enforce, is divided into a judiciary code that covers academic standards of honesty and a disciplinary code that governs non-academic aspects of student life, including party culture and treatment of school property. Students who have broken a provision of the Honor Code are expected to report themselves to the college’s Honor Board.
About 25 residents of Linde Dorm self-reported early this semester for drinking alcohol during dry week, a violation of the disciplinary code, according to dorm presidents Abby Korth HM ’13 and Jaanhvi Vaidya HM ’13.
“I’m not sure that only members of Linde Dorm did this, but we broke dry week,” Korth said.
“I think the reason why freshmen drank was because of [upperclassmen],” she added. “I think we made it clear that dry week was something not to be respected, [so] people didn’t take it seriously.”
HMC students and administrators agreed that this semester’s large number of reported dry week violations was unusual, but some also said that the incidents highlighted a difference in how the two parts of the Honor Code are interpreted by HMC students.
“I think that there’s a difference of opinion about the status of the two pieces of the Honor Code,” said Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Maggie Browning. “Some people would say the ‘real’ Honor Code is just the part that says, ‘Act with integrity and preserve the integrity of the community,’ and that the disciplinary code is not really part of the Honor Code.”
“The legitimacy of the whole system depends on there being a community-wide consensus, and it’s just becoming clear that there isn’t, actually,” she added.
Judiciary Board Chair Hayden Hatch HM ’12 said that HMC students generally follow the judiciary code more rigorously than the disciplinary code. He added that the disciplinary code’s rule against underage drinking is “the giant elephant in the room,” since many students break it without self-reporting.
“If you drink underage, not only is that against the law, but it’s also against the Honor Code, and I know that students at each of the colleges here actually do that,” Hatch said. “But does that mean that half or three quarters of the student body needs to self-report if they drink? If that’s the case, then a lot of people are violating the Honor Code.”
Associated Students of Harvey Mudd College (ASHMC) President Margaret Brier HM ’12 agreed that next semester’s event should address the inconsistency between the Honor Code’s language and the student body’s expectations regarding alcohol.
“By introducing that inconsistency, there’s a concern that there could be a creep of other inconsistencies, where students say, ‘Well if it’s okay for us to drink underage, then maybe it’s okay to do this other thing that the Honor Code also says we can’t do,” Brier said.
She added, however, that HMC may need to enforce the rule that prohibits students below the age of 21 from drinking in order to comply with state law.
Disciplinary Board Chair Michael Loy HM ’13 said that in addition to re-examining the Honor Code’s alcohol rules, HMC should use next semester’s event to develop a broader range of fair and effective punishments for disciplinary code violations. He suggested that the college might want to continue using some of the new procedures that were developed to handle this semester’s dry-week violations.
“I don’t think the path that we took was previously in the system,” Loy said of the disciplinary board’s response to the Linde residents who self-reported. “We had to improvise a little bit because normally we don’t get incidents with this sheer number of people.”
Part of this unusual approach involved allowing students to take charge of setting the consequences for their own dry-week violations. A committee of Linde residents wrote a list of punishments that the administration agreed to accept as solutions.
In keeping with their arrangement with the HMC administration and disciplinary board, Linde residents observed an additional, dorm-specific dry week in October, re-signed the Honor Code, and accepted limitations on the types of parties they are allowed to host this semester. Linde is not hosting any 5C parties this semester, and no Linde parties are allowed to include hard alcohol.
“They were really cooperative, really helpful, I think much more so than if, say, we had just slapped them with a punishment,” Loy said of the Linde residents.
Vaidya, the Linde president, agreed that the outcome had been positive.
“I don’t think any harm has come from this situation,” she said.
Parker Martin HM ’13, also a Linde president, agreed.
“I think that following our proposal, the relationship between the dorm and the administration is a healthy one,” he said.
Given the positive outcome of the follow-up to the dry week violations, Browning said there is no reason to panic.
“We’re not in crisis here,” she said. “These are the kinds of things that happen when you have a healthy, living Honor Code.”