Recruitment for Colorado College’s Honor Council is currently underway, and this year the council is ramping up its efforts to increase diversity and representation among its members.
Since 1948, CC has operated under the Honor Code, which aims to “promote personal responsibility and academic integrity.” While having some form of an honor system is not unique to CC, we as a college are distinguished from our peer institutions by our Honor Council, an entirely student-run organization that educates the student body about the honor code and conducts all investigations into potential violations.
“I really think [the Honor Council] is something that sets CC apart in terms of how our academic world functions,” current council member Elijah Thornburg ’20 said. “[It’s unique] that we are expected to hold ourselves and each other accountable, and we don’t have a top-down, punitive system.”
The council currently has 29 student members who see an average of 30 cases a year. Of these 30 cases, approximately two-thirds are found guilty. Although every case is approached with a standardized procedure, the council tackles each case individually, working directly with the accused student and taking into account their testimony and personal experiences.
An investigation begins when either a professor or student reports a suspected honor code violation to one of the two current co-chairs, Kate Schroeder ’19 or Harrison Raine ’19. Two council members then take on the case and approach people individually. They address the professor or peer who brought the allegation, any witnesses, and finally, the accused student. In the first meeting, the accused student is under no obligation to say anything; the two investigators simply present all the information they have collected thus far and read the student’s rights and responsibilities. During the second meeting, investigators give the accused student a chance to share their account of the alleged incident, although the student is again under no obligation to disclose any information.
The investigators then decide if it was more likely than not that a violation occurred, then they issue a letter to the student with their finding. Once the student receives said letter, they can either plead guilty or not guilty. If the student pleads guilty, the investigators recommend a sanction to the professor, and the case is closed. However, if the student pleads not guilty, the case goes before a panel.
A panel consists of seven honor council members, including one of the two co-chairs and not including the two original investigators. The panel first meets with the original two investigators then individually again with either the professor or student who brought the allegation, any witnesses and the accused student. To issue a guilty verdict, at least four of the seven members, the majority of the council, must find the accused student guilty based on “clear and convincing evidence.” They then deliberate and reach a consensus on an appropriate sanction.
Sanctions range from no credit on a single assignment to expulsion without the possibility of reapplying depending on the severity of the violation. Every sanction from the Honor Council is simply a recommendation, meaning the professor has the final say. Any expulsion or suspension recommendations are sent directly to President Jill Tiefenthaler.
The Honor Council consistently faces criticism from the student body, with one notable misconception that council members are “spies” of some sort.
“People think that council members are in their class to spy on them and then report a violation, which is not true at all,” Schroeder said. “Most of our potential violations come to us from a professor generally. There are occasional peer reports, but that’s very rare.”
Folke Egerstrom ’19, another current council member, echoed Schroeder’s defense, saying members are “more public defenders [for accused students] than snitches,” which, nonetheless, remains the pervasive narrative on campus.
There has also been criticism that the council is not representative of the student body, with a disproportionate number of white students serving. According to Schroeder, eight of the current council members identify as people of color, which is a vast improvement from her first year on campus which Egerstrom — an international student originally from Mexico — remembers well.
When Egerstrom joined the council his freshman year, he was one of around five students of color out of 40 members. He said there was little conversation surrounding issues of representation or recruitment of underrepresented students. However in 2017, his sophomore year, the council began making more conscious efforts to increase the diversity of its members, including creating the ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ and ‘Recruitment and Retainment’ committees.
Thornburg, the current Officer of the Diversity and Inclusion committee, said the council is working hard to continue increasing the diversity of its members.
“I really want any student at Colorado College to be able to look at the Honor Council and feel confident that they will be understood and respected,” Thornburg said. “I think it’s super important that every student group by every identifier have representation on the Honor Council. That’s really the number one thing.”
Beyond reaching out to student groups on campus such BSU and NASU, the council also hopes to attract a more diverse applicant pool via the nomination process. In years past, only faculty members could nominate students to be on the Honor Council. However, this year, staff can also nominate students, meaning members of the Butler Center, Wellness Resource Center and other similar organizations can now play a role in the application process.
In addition to recruiting more students from diverse backgrounds during this fall’s application process, Thornburg also said he and his committee hope to better equip current members of the council to serve all students. Both he and the current co-chairs have been in communication with the Butler Center and hope to incorporate workshops on (un)conscious bias into their annual training 5th block.
“I joined the council because … I wanted to be part of a conversation and solution [for] making the process … more fair and reliable and consistent and strict honestly … [while] taking into account the many different layers of someone’s life and experience that can contribute to doing something in their academic life that puts them in front of the council,” Thornburg said. “Everybody should join the Honor Council … because we want to have as many voices as possible.”
The Honor Council application is currently ‘live’ and can be found on CC’s website. Applications are due by Nov. 16. Students do not have to be nominated to apply.