I was brought up to be honest. I shoplifted a box of Jell-O when I was four because I loved raw Jell-O. My mother took me back to the grocery store. She made me apologize to the manager and pay for it out of my five-cents-per-week allowance. Thanks, Mom.
George always said I was a twit. Although he was very honest, he thought I made too much of it. Whenever I noticed I was undercharged for an item, I always brought it to the attention of the store. I won’t go on with other examples but, yes, I am a twit.
In 1969, we moved to Charlottesville, VA, where I started work on a master’s of education at the University of Virginia. In those years, the campus was segregated by gender. Women could only attend classes in the School of Education and no other departments because–well, I don’t know why not. However, all students had to attend a meeting about the HONOR CODE which was very important then. We listened to a speaker explain honor for thirty minutes, then had to sign an honor pledge. I was married with a small child and had only cheated on a test once in my life, in sophomore general science and have felt shame for years. This is the only time or place I’ve confessed that. But, very simply, when working on a master’s degree, I wasn’t going to cheat on a test or do anything dishonorable and felt a little insulted I had to listen to an explanation of honor as if it were a virtue I’d never understood or considered, then sign a pledge that I would be honorable.
Those who already plan to cheat are not going to be stopped by signing a pledge. They’re perfectly willing to lie if they plan to cheat.
I reflect on this because of what we’re hearing about the great number of rapes on college campuses that are not investigated, are covered up, when the woman is encouraged not to call the police or to rock the boat or to open herself to the inevitable attacks that come when a woman cries rape.
And in the midst of all this is the University of Virginia. I wonder if a campus leader still discusses the importance of being honorable, the need to be an honorable gentleman and Cavalier. Does that leader realize there are men in the audience who don’t consider rape to be a dishonorable action? Or perhaps some–yes, a small minority but a woman who is raped for three hours by seven men considers that to be a huge number of men–believe the woman wanted it or deserved it or shouldn’t have been drinking so she couldn’t consent or say no. Obviously there a few young men who haven’t been taught what honor really means, didn’t learn during the required meeting about the honor code that all deserve to be respected, even women. Seems to me that many universities ignore those offenses because they believe the reputation of their institution is more important than the protection of all their students. Or perhaps they believe boys will be boys.
Yes, the great majority of students consider these crimes reprehensible; the behavior of the university, unfathomable and, perhaps, criminal. This weekend, crowds marched across the beautiful campus of the University of Virginia, protesting the lack of honor by these men and the less than honorable actions by the administration.
NBC News said tonight that since 1998, 180 UVa students have been expelled for honor code violations. None of those infractions were for sexual assault. Does this suggest that as long as a man doesn’t cheat on a test, whatever else he may do is just fine?
Which brings up my question: Why bother with an honor code?