At the end of every exam, and usually our other assignments, we sign in our name pledging that we have abided by the Honor Code during the exam and are not aware of any Honor Code breaches. Perhaps pledging his exam is the only interaction that a typical student has with the Honor Code; for most students, I would guess this is all the interaction they want. After all, when you signed the Honor Code, attended the Mock Trial, and perhaps talked about plagiarism in a rhetoric class, you probably came away from the experience with the impression that the Honor Code exists to protect us from those who lie cheat and steal; it certainly does, but the Honor Code is much more robust.
The Honor Code is much more than a “rule.” If the code only exists to help our school maintain a strong academic reputation, build trust among students, and give us some peace of mind about our possessions, why don’t we call it the ‘Cheating Code’, the ‘Stealing Code’ or the ‘Hampden-Sydney Code’? We specifically follow an ‘Honor’ code because our system seeks to create a way of life rooted in honor, which we can conceptualize as self-respect.
Aside from the ‘external’ effects that lying, cheating, and stealing have on other students, an Honorable person refrains from doing these things because they are disrespectful to himself. Lying to myself about the integrity of my ideas negates my own ability to search for truth, understand the world more completely, and be a better intellectual. Similarly, cheating and stealing only have the potential to put me better off, in material standing, relative to others. Cheating and stealing can’t make me a better person; they don’t contribute to my personal flourishing. In fact, by choosing to lie, cheat or, steal, because I have chosen an easier road at the expense of bettering myself, such actions actually detract from my flourishing, making them disrespectful and likewise dishonorable.
Even the part of the honor code that reads “…nor tolerate those who do” contains elements that should be part of our personal honor. Though this part of the Honor Code is designed to require all rule followers to be rule enforcers, it is reflective of the high standard we should reserve for our personal honor. By not tolerating those who do break the honor code, Hampden-Sydney Men agree that neither friendship, nor social standing exempt someone from the code; the code applies equally to all. Likewise, as we seek to maintain our own personal honor, no idea should be considered to have an intrinsic worth or being beyond a standard which we are willing to question. In fact, if there is no theoretical fact, mechanism, or idea, which if true would provoke you to switch any position you hold, you are limiting just how honorable you can be.
As academic environments become more competitive and students are driven to cheat, conversations about Honor Codes will become more popular in academic institutions. Schools who are struggling with academic integrity issues, are attracted to Honor Codes because of their ability to keep students in line, but Hampden-Sydney seeks to create “good men and good citizens” not just intelligent men; our honor code is part of that mission, not just a mechanism we use to minimize academic dishonesty. By being honest, respectful, and therefore honorable, we can become maximize our potential; push the limitations of what we perceived our limits to be. Low cheating incidents, and trust among peers are only some of the benefits our Honor Code provides, but these are not necessarily the goals of the Honor Code. Even though most of us only encounter the Honor Code when signing a pledge on an assignment every few weeks, I hope that each student takes a moment to think about how the Honor Code exists to influence who you are, as much as it seeks to influence what you do.