Exploratory committee considered

As Stand With Us’ initial galvanizing impact settles, efforts to confront the social culture on campus continue as they carry on beyond the widely attended meetings and rally held last month. While a significant portion of campus has come forth to support the movement and its fight against disrespect and discrimination at the College, its proposal to establish a committee to examine social interactions has been met with rising criticism over the past few weeks. After holding an open meeting last Wednesday for students to voice their concerns, College Council has worked with members on both sides of the issue to establish two new committee proposals.

Stand With Us’ social honor code subgroup initially recommended that the College form an Exploratory Committee on Community Ethics to gauge opinions on campus regarding the current social culture. The committee would also be charged with reviewing existing structures at the College regarding community ethics and examining social honor codes at other colleges. Depending on the committee’s findings, it would choose whether or not to draft a social honor code with a potential enforcement component and then present the code to campus and hold a referendum.

Advocates and opponents of the proposed committee debated at the CC meeting last Wednesday, discussing both its purpose and structure. Tim Geoffrion ’08 sharply criticized both the proposed committee and the notion of a social honor code. “My problem is that it’s a premature issue to talk about a social honor code,” he said. “It gives the impression that there’s strong enough student support to consider it.” Geoffrion started a petition against a social honor code early last week and collected around 300 signatures over three days. He stressed that while hateful speech of any kind was unacceptable, a social honor code would only inhibit uncomfortable learning and dialogue, further perpetuating the problem. “College should be a place of uncomfortable learning,” he said. “I’m afraid that a social honor code will only stop people from having those experiences.”

Ana Morron ’09, who also helped collect names for the petition, said that many students had expressed fears of being perceived as racist if they opposed a social honor code. “Within the first three names, people started wanting confidentiality, a promise that this wouldn’t be published,” she said, adding that another student passing around the petition had been accused of being racist. “What people kept on asking was, ‘Why don’t we first focus on the other two committees?’ It’s silly to assume it’s not going to work,” she said, referring to Stand With Us’ other two main attempts to further the movement – planning a campus-wide day set aside for social justice issues and addressing sub-communities within the College. “People don’t want something so controlling at that level.”

Proponents of the committee stressed that the body’s main function would precisely be to gauge student opinion and would by no means guarantee a social honor code, especially considering that a minimum of two thirds of campus would have to pass the code for it to be implemented. “We made a big error in calling ourselves the ‘social honor code group’,” said Will Slack ’11, who helped draft Stand With Us’ proposal. “It makes it seem like we’re making an academic honor code, except for social reasons – this is not the case,” he said. “We’re just trying to get a committee and be as representative as possible.”

Others added that the committee’s exploration extended beyond race and discrimination issues. “This is about exploring community ethics – not about establishing a student honor code,” said Remington Shepard ’08. “We have a problem with students not being accountable for their actions, for general disrespect,” he said, mentioning incidents of vandalism and property damage that occur frequently. “The committee would tackle this issue of accountability.” He cited the 1896 student-led effort to create an academic honor code, arguing that student-run efforts to hold each other accountable were most effective.

Geoffrion argued that the committee, as proposed, was incapable of adequately and accurately representing the campus. Stand With Us’ proposal suggested the Committee be composed of 15 voting members: nine students, one of whom would chair the committee; three faculty members solicited by Wendy Raymond, associate dean of institutional diversity; and three staff members that included Mike Reed, vice president for strategic planning and institutional diversity, College Chaplain Rick Spalding and a representative from the Dean’s Office. Given that both Raymond and Reed have publicly advocated a social honor code, Geoffrion argued that they would influence the committee with their vested interests. “It would start off assuming that a social honor code is what we want,” he said. “It wouldn’t be a fact-finding body, and it would seem fundamentally dishonest to parade it as something that it’s not.”

Other criticisms focused on the vagueness of “exploring community ethics” and stressed that the committee’s specific goals and means of achieving them must be explicitly outlined before it sets off to start its work. Geoffrion added that giving the committee a broad range of exploratory powers may lead to sweeping changes that would be ultimately ineffective. “You don’t want to try to solve too much with one bite,” he said. “It’s more likely to come up with concrete problems if broken down.”

Some students also brought up the question of whether the committee should be more student-run, with faculty and staff acting in advisory roles. While the committee would be examining the community, it was unclear whether this extended beyond student-to-student interaction. “The reason that there are faculty and staff on the committee is because there have been testimonies from them revealing that they too have experienced discrimination on campus,” said Madeleine Jacobs ’11. She added that having a student majority would prevent the top-down structure some students feared.

Others, however, stressed that the committee should only focus on student interactions. “This committee is for us. Faculty are employees, they have a different relationship,” Shepard said, adding that the academic honor code only applied to students.

While several faculty members have vigorously supported the Stand With Us movement, citing instances where they too have experienced discrimination or disrespect at the College, it is unclear whether they would ever pass a student-led committee’s recommendations. Raymond advocated faculty involvement on the committee, commending the collaboration students, faculty and staff involved in the movement have shown. “Students are exploring formal ways to involve faculty in a proposed committee that will explore the possible development of a social honor code,” she said. “I think this is appropriate.” She added that there has been no talk among faculty of forming a separate committee to explore a social honor code for the faculty.

A more specific proposal

Following the open CC meeting, a few CC members along with a handful of students met on Saturday to flesh out two new committee proposals that addressed some of its critics’ concerns. CC Campus then polished the committee structures, one that would only focus on student behavior and another that would also address faculty interactions. CC is currently in the process of meeting with Dean Merrill and Bill Wagner, dean of the faculty, to understand how much influence the committee’s recommendations for faculty could have. At tonight’s meeting, CC will vote on which of the two routes the committee should take and then decide whether the proposed structure would be effective and meets student concerns and expectations.

The major revision to the proposed structure is changing the staff positions to advisory and non-voting roles. In both cases there would be nine students, one of whom would serve as chair of the committee. If CC decides the committee should address faculty behavior, six voting faculty would sit on the committee, and only two advisory faculty would sit if the committee were to focus solely on student interaction.

Additionally, the new proposals flesh out in great detail the exact goals of the committee, the processes it would undertake and how it would be held accountable. “The level of detail is an important change,” said Peter Nurnberg ’09, CC co-president. “A major problem before was that it wasn’t clear what the committee was doing exactly; it just had a few broad goals. Now it will be clear to CC exactly what kind of committee they’ll be voting on.”

CC will review the proposals at tonight’s meeting, make any necessary amendments and then vote on whether a committee should be formed at all.