Pomona College is missing a notion of responsibility. Not academic responsibility—Pomona students arguably take their academics almost too seriously. Rather, Pomona College has become a community devoid of personal responsibility and accountability. This editorial board calls for a new culture of responsibility and community at Pomona College. We call for an Honor Code.
Responsibility and community should be important parts of our college experience. Right now, that isn’t the case. We have a strict judicial system, which is reviewed only under the purview of the Student Affairs Committee. We have a general attitude on campus where you have to “know” the ways to avoid getting in trouble, where it is fine to drink, even to excess, so long as you close your door and curtains, and turn down your music. There is an attitude on campus that it is okay to leave a mess behind in the hallway, so long as you were only “in transit.”
We don’t want new or adjusted rules. We don’t want to punish people on technicalities for violating them. The problem is, rules will always produce technicalities, underhanded evasion, and a system of authority versus the student. We don’t need that. You should avoid doing things not because they are against rules, but because you don’t want to make life at Pomona College worse for other students here.
We don’t need the college to decide what rules should be or how to enforce these rules. We need a system where each student feels that it is his or her duty to uphold the standards of the community. It shouldn’t be a choice about rules; it should be a choice about how you want to live.
This means that we’ll have to respect our peers—for example, maybe you should not host a loud party tomorrow night because you do not want to interrupt your neighbor as he writes his 20-page paper. You shouldn’t steal furniture because someone else in the community might want to use it.
An Honor Code shouldn’t be about tattling on people playing Beirut because they are playing a drinking game. It should be about reporting violations only when they disrupt life for another individual. An Honor Code is about respect, while rules are merely about negative reinforcement.
This isn’t about breaking rules set forth by the administration. It’s about setting up a community where the problem is when we violate each others’ expectations, not the blanket expectations of the student code.
With great responsibility comes great freedom, and the advantages of an Honor Code are numerous. Honor Codes like the one at Haverford allow students to schedule exams on their own, unsupervised. They allow students to pursue whatever personal decisions they choose, so long as those personal decisions are not negatively affecting the community.
One might argue that this is a higher standard than that to which Pomona College holds its students. At Pomona, a violation of the rules results in a small monetary sanction. With an Honor Code, a violation results in the knowledge that you are devaluing a community to which you are intensely committed. It makes vandalizing an advertisement more than vandalism, but rather an affront on everyone in the community.
That sentiment doesn’t exist today. Violating the rules is just that. We break rules and suffer the consequences at the hands of the college. But the consequences that we should be concerned about aren’t $100 fines or probation: they are the lack of trust in the community and the lack of respect for each other.
An Honor Code would require a high degree of debate and discussion among the community. It is something that would have to come about as a community consensus, and would have to be respected by the entire community.
This is not about enforcing policy, law, or rules. This is not about babying everyone into a perfectly safe environment. This is about building a strong community, and respecting that community. We should be responsible adults. Unlike the current policy, which encourages students to do whatever they can “get away with,” an Honor Code will build a positive community that looks to actively improve our college life.