By Esther Zuckerman
It was supposed to be a discussion about the Honor Code. Senior Prefects David A. Alpert â08 and Emma Kaplan â08 were on stage during the senior assembly to moderate and take notes respectively, and Senior Prefects Gaven Lucas â08 and Hannah Moody â08 prowled the aisles with microphones.
Head Prefect Tasia Smith â08 said they intended to propose questions to the student body like âWhy did they write the Honor Code back then? Why is it important? And what does it give our school that not having the Honor Code might not?â
After opening up the floor for discussion the meeting quickly got off topic.
Students brought up the English departmentâs policy on Sparknotes, the administrationâs involvement in outside of school activities, people skipping days of school when they have tests or papers due and someone signing out under Drew Fosterâs â08 name.
Students became accusatory. One student said that the âHonor Code just blows things up,â and asked to know more about the Honor Boardâs decisions.
The deans, who were asked to leave so the students could feel free to say what they felt, could hear yelling from Rugby lobby, Dean Tamar Adegbile said.
The meeting was arranged as part of an assessment of the Honor Codeâs role in the school community that the Prefect Council and specifically their newly created Honor Code subcommittee, including Smith and Alpert, are conducting.
Forums are being held at all class meetings, and members of the subcommittee are meeting with faculty departments.
âFrom what we heard at the end we were particularly disappointed with the seniors,â said Adegbile, who is also a subcommittee faculty adviser with Prefect Council adviser Father J. Young.
Adegbile said she wanted to dispel the rumor brought up in the meeting by one senior girl that deans were in the tech booth filming the meeting for the administration. She said that in fact two junior Prefects, Ariana Sopher â09 and Tessa Wick â09, were filming because the Prefects had been working on public speaking and stage presence with drama teacher Ted Walch.
âThe idea was to have a discussion,â Smith said after the meeting. She was interrupted by Alpert: âItâs whatever discussion the kids wanted, and this is what they wanted, I guess.â
Members of the Prefect Council said that the junior class meeting that took place on Wednesday of that week was less unruly.
âIt was productive,â Director of Studies JordanÂ Church said.
Kaplan, who moderated the senior class meeting and was present for the junior class meeting, also thought it went better.
âStudents were really verbal about what they thought about the Code and they had a lot of ideas and a lot of comments that we hadnât thought about and I thought it was a really good idea to come to the class,â she said.Â
Brandon Levin â09 said there were some problems in the junior assembly having to do with rambunctious students, but based on what he heard it was not as chaotic as the senior class meeting.
âIt was not as much of out of control ruckus as the senior class meeting was,â Levin said.
Smith heard that students used the event to vent on issues unrelated to the Honor Code.Â
Â âOne of my friends in my bio class actually said, âyou know that people were using it as a forum to take out their frustrations,ââ she said. âShe said the person who brought up skipping out on test days, well, they were sitting in a group where they had a friend who skips out on test days all the time and they didnât want to say it to their friend so they did it in this forum.â
Smith did admit that the Prefect Council was at some fault.
âWe didnât do a good enough job of getting it on track at the beginning,â she said.
While Janaye Walker â08 said she thought students were ârudeâ she expressed disillusionment with the Honor Code.
âThe Honor Code doesnât define how people are supposed to run their lives,â Walker said. âPeople are going to do what they want.â
The idea for the subcommittee arose out of discussions led by Young with the Prefect Council regarding the Honor Code.
âKids donât even know what the Honor Code is. They donât know how it would apply in their lives,â Smith said. âThe whole reason we have an Honor Board is to enforce the Code, and if no one really knows about the Code, then there is no point in having a board.â
A letter sent by subcommittee faculty adviser Young and Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts to all upper school faculty expressed concern that teachers do not have consistent beliefs as to what role the Honor Code and Honor Board should play in our school community, nor do they have consistent methods in dealing with what they consider violations.
Huybrechts related an incident in which she overheard a teacher dealing with a case in which the teacher believed students were collaborating a little too closely on a lab report.
Huybrechts said she thought that when the teacher is not sure about the circumstances then the case should not go to the Honor Board. She said thatÂ she is not sure whether the specific policy is even written anywhere.
âWhen there isnât a written policy,â Huybrechts said, âsometimes there isnât a policy at all.â
Smith said they cannot be sure how many teachers take matters into their own hands, but she knows some do.
âI think there are cases that teachers feel better about dealing with themselves,â Smith said. âSome things teachers donât want to go through the hassle so they wonât bring it up at all.â
Smith also noted that in smaller first offenses the Honor Board is now holding âabridged cases.â
âThe truth is that at some point there is a gray area between what constitutes a case and what doesnât constitute a case,â Young said.
The subcommittee has met with the performing arts department and the foreign language department so far and Smith said they have been happy with the results.
They have three department meetings this week with the math, visual arts and English departments and they plan to complete all of their meetings before the end of the semester.
Young said they did not want to release too many details about their findings since they have not spoken to a majority of the departments yet.
Smith, who sat in on the foreign language meeting, said âthey brought up concerns about how the Board functions, and thatâs valid. They were positive, which was good. I was glad to hear that they were so positive about it and they did believe in it.â
Foreign Language Department Head Javier Zaragoza said his departmentâs meeting with the subcommittee âwas right on the money,â Zaragoza said.Â âThe whole issue usually begins with faculty so the faculty needs to know what the philosophy is.â
Zaragoza said they discussed that teachers are often âhesitantâ to send students to the Honor Board. They talked about going through the deans.
âIt relieves the teacher from being guilty over being the one who sent âJimmyâ to the Honor Board,â Zaragoza said.
Zaragoza said that the existence of the Honor Code and Board has changed the way he teaches.
âIt has led me to be a more vigilant teacher, not a distrustful teacher,â Zaragoza said.
Smith said that even she believes the Honor Code is ânebulous.â
âThroughout discussions on the Prefect Council and especially this year and throughout subcommittee Iâve come to a much greater understanding and I completely believe in it now, and I donât think I could have said that last year,â Smith said.
The entire program is working toward developing an enhanced Â community of trust, a phrase members of the Prefect Council refer to a lot.
âOur subcommittee started meeting weekly and we talked about how we wanted to educate the community about the Honor Code and we decided that the Honor Code really creates a community where you are responsible to your peers and to everyone in the community to uphold that,â Smith said.
Young said the process of reexamining the Honor Code, something which he said has only been done in isolated doses since its implementation, will be a long one.
âItâs a pretty sophisticated philosophical understanding that we are asking the entire community to buy into, and so itâs unfortunately not something that you can put out in a memo or stand up before them in a five minute lecture,â Young said.