By Judd Liebman
Have you ever seen the movie “21?” The main character cheats in Las Vegas and gets taken down to the basement for a talk with the pit boss. Take “talk” in more of a figurative sense, as the only work his mouth does is keeping his broken teeth from falling to the ground. He has done something wrong, and the pit boss is going to get the truth and punish him, no matter what. Minus the blood and use of force, this is what I picture when I think of the Honor Board.
The Honor Board, at least in my mind, happens in a dimly lit room, except of course for the token bright interrogation light, with a panel of teachers and students on one side, and the defendant on the other. And yes, I do mean defendant because the Honor Board to me is no less than a court. Except that in court, the defendant actually has a lawyer on his side to help.
Intimidation is at the heart of the purpose and usefulness of the Honor Board. From what I can tell, the administration wants us to think of the board in the scariest way possible. And as if this isn’t enough, the decision to post the Honor Code all around school adds to the insanity.
Have you ever read the Honor Code? It’s more vague than the Elastic Clause in the Constitution. Any time you work with a partner now, you have to think. “Am I letting my conscience be my guide?” Everywhere I go, I am slapped in the face by the intimidation of this thing.
If I somehow break the Honor Code, which I will never know because of its vaguness, I am automatically guilty until proven innocent, which is not the usual verdict.
I am scared of the Honor Board and the power the Prefects have to make life-changing decisions. To help fix this problem, the administration and the Prefect Council should work to make the Honor Board clear to students. It may be hard for those involved, but the Prefects should strive for complete transparency. The board should no longer be an intimidation tactic, and it should transform into something that everyone on campus is comfortable with.
The Prefects have some explaining to do. They have tried to tell us what goes on in that cold, dark room, but they have failed miserably. I want to know everything. And I mean everything. Can I bring my parents? How about a lawyer? How long will the meeting take? Will I have time for my homework, and if not, will I be excused from doing it? What’s the seating arrangement? I want to know whether or not the defendant is on the stand being cross-examined by the faculty and Prefects or if the process is just a series of conversations.
They should either take minutes and release them, or take a mock case and present it to the entire school. Harvard-Westlake is great because of the trust and integrity upon which this institution was built. There is no need to use intimidation tactics to remind students to behave and work honestly.
If the people in charge want to keep the Honor Board, that doesn’t bother me, as it seems to work in doling out punishments. However, everyone on campus needs to be confident that they know exactly what will happen should they get in trouble.