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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Hampden-Sydney "Honor"

This is a story that I've been meaning to write for a long time, and one that I don't think I can finish today. It's about Hampden-Sydney and our Honor system. There is no question that Honor is one of the biggest things about HSC. Unfortunately, I don't think people truly understand what it means. I'm not even sure that I have a clear impression of what "honor" is. I have opinions on what makes a man honorable, but I don't think that there is a cohesive opinion here on campus. This post is going to deal with one tenant of honor that I think is important, and one that I think has been almost completely forgotten: Respect.

The screenshot above is taken from, our school's website. As is true with the "Hampden-Sydney way" (As I have personally come to see it), only the end is important: "The Hampden-Sydney student will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those who do." That is the part of the honor system that I know people remember. And how couldn't we? As a reminder, we are made to write it on every single paper and exam that we turn in! 

But what about the Code of Conduct? "The Hampden-Sydney Student will behave as a gentleman at all times and in all places." This part of our honor system seems to be most often forgotten or ignored. For example, here's an email that I got this morning:

Now, I don't know what this "message of intolerance" was, but welcome to Hampden-Sydney! You mean to tell me that someone within the Hampden-Sydney community conveyed "a message of intolerance"? I am appalled and completely shocked! (only not really...)

One of the problems, as I see it, is that not enough is being done here. Look at this email, for example. Sure, it was sent out to the whole campus, and it identifies that something was "conveyed", but what was it? Was it a racial slur? Was it an anti-gay message? Was it another penis drawn on a chalkboard?

I don't know!

So what do we do with this? "The hurtful words are not representative of our Hampden-Sydney community," but what does that even mean? I don't think the majority of student here even recognize what is appropriate. On a typical day at Hampden-Sydney I hear approximately 6-10 racially themed jokes made outside the presence of racial minorities. Of course they aren't going to be made around students that might be more offended by these jokes, but think: "The Hampden-Sydney Student will behave as a gentleman at all times and in all places.

To date, I've heard more gay jokes and slurs at Hampden-Sydney than I ever heard in the four years of High School and three years of Middle School that I attended. Middle/High school students are recognizably immature. When we move to college we are supposed to grow up, right? Well that doesn't happen. And the worst part about people making these sorts of jokes, or saying these offensive things is that, more often than not, they do not know that they are offending anyone

Students here are not taught to recognize when something is offensive. It is left up to our best judgment. The judgment of a typical Hampden-Sydney student isn't that great--if all the alcohol and substance abuse related cases haven't already taught us that, then we are doomed. So when things like this are left up to the student, of course it's not going to work. Sure, students will know to avoid doing something, but what is that something that they must avoid?

Now for an anecdote: I'll take you back to my freshman year at Hampden-Sydney. This was a rough year for me. I came into school as an openly gay student. I didn't parade it around or anything, but I didn't hide it either--I was determined that I wouldn't hide that part of myself, and I wouldn't allow it to control me, either. As it should turn out, I was too optimistic. Throughout the year I was assaulted a couple times (ranging from "a shove to the ground" to "we're drunk and we're gonna give you some bruises"). I was victim to social torment practically every day from my classmates who were overjoyed to have a "faggot" to make fun of. I didn't have many friends, and still have few friends within my graduating class. Most of the friends that I have now are, likewise social rejects in one way or another (no offense to you guys, if you're reading this). By the end of the first semester, I was ready to leave, but stayed--"It'll get better", I thought. Second semester, I was met with the same issues, but I grew to get past it and avoid the trouble. By the end of the semester, I had less trouble: just a vandalized paper ("FAG" written across the front) and a few stolen/destroyed possessions. 

Is this the type of freshman year that students can be expected to have? I don't think most students have these issues, but I have heard stories of other harassment on campus. These things happen, and it's a real problem on campus. Things have gotten better for me, specifically, since freshman year just because I've learned to deal with them better. But I'm terrified that another freshman will come in next year, or may even be here now, and he will have the same sort of problems that I've had.

So what can we do about this problem?
To be honest, I haven't got a clue. I've mostly lost hope for this place. I've considered leaving every day since I got here, but my financial aid keeps me here. I do have on idea as to what might help us, though.

I believe that people need to be more informed. Things happen here that no one ever hears about. Like in that email, we don't even know what happened. I seriously doubt people have heard about my vandalism incident (even though it was reported), and even fewer still will know about the assault that I endured. Most of the people here probably think things are just super. Guys come in here, they drink and sleep their way through classes, they cuss and insult each other, they frat and haze, they break laws and have a good time, and then they leave. Like nothing ever happened. Nothing gained but a diploma, nothing lost but some brain cells. 
 But if Hampden-Sydney still claims that they've been
Then we need to start doing something about actually teaching the students about what is okay and what is not okay. 

This finally brings me back to my original point: Respect. Hampden-Sydney students need to be taught about how to respect one-another. We need to respect that there are things we should and should not do. We need to respect those tenants of the Honor System that we all agreed on, rather than just the second part. 

The honor code (no lying, cheating, stealing) is pretty much the only things students consider. Even then, they lie, cheat, and steal all the time. only time, perhaps, that the code is considered is when we're working on papers. In addition to this, since the Honor Code doesn't say anything specifically about vandalism and assault, does that mean it's okay to do them? 

Meanwhile, the code of conduct sits in a corner hiding away, forgotten. People do not act like "gentlemen" at all times and in all places. Obviously not. But it's like they often don't even try to do so.

I've probably rambled enough so here's my points:
  1. The school and everyone in it needs to be more responsible for informing one another when there is a problem.
  2. Students need to be reminded that "Honor" does not simply mean "No lying, cheating, or stealing (on homework assignments)." 
  3. Students should be reminded that the Code of Conduct does exist, and that it should be followed as closely, if not closer, than the Honor Code.
Respect and Honor walk hand-in-hand, Hampden-Sydney. Take a look at yourself and ask yourself if you're really being honorable.

-Sincerely and Passionately, 
Your Editor.

1 comment:

  1. Your insightful commentary is appreciated. Many share your perspective.
    Thank you for articulating this unfortunate reality and for sharing your story.

    How different would Hampden-Sydney be if we all understood and practiced the code of conduct? You are correct that honorable (gentlemanly) behavior toward others is something that does not just happen because we have a slogan. Respectful behavior towards others needs to be focused on, cultivated, and practiced. It should be an actual code of conduct.

    To do this we need both greater personal accountability for our actions and strong leadership in this area. Acknowledgement that we have a serious problem along with campus-wide dialog about changing the situation would be a good place to start.