By Sarah Westbrook
The Bryn Mawr Honor Board held their first open discussion of the year last Wednesday, November 12, to consider the role of Honor Board abstracts in the Bryn Mawr community. The discussion also focused on various changes in procedure and form which might make abstracts more effective.
Honor Board Head Katie Kellom ’09 opened the discussion by saying that “abstracts are the most visible part of what the Honor Board does, and in the past there have been concerns with the transparency of Honor Board proceedings.” Kellom wondered if abstracts were as effective as they could be.
The Bryn Mawr Honor Board currently releases abstracts twice a year, at the end of each semester, via e-mail, summarizing each of the cases Honor Board has heard during the semester. In the past, hard copies of abstracts were distributed in student mailboxes, but now only a limited number of hard copies are produced for administrators in an effort to be more environmentally friendly.
Honor Board members raised concerns about the effectiveness of both the time and method of abstract releases.
Amanda Bowes ’10 raised the possibility of releasing abstracts at the beginning of the semester, rather than at the end. Kellom stated that the original intention of releasing abstracts at the end of the semester was to serve as a reminder “around finals time to work with academic integrity,” but that Honor Board did not want to “hit people over the head” with that message.
Community member Emma Wisniewski-Barker ’11 wondered if “people could just easily skim over” abstracts sent as attachments to activities e-mails with additional information regarding exam procedures, especially around finals time. She proposed including brief versions of the abstracts, a few sentences long, to e-mails and directing interested people to the complete abstracts posted on the Honor Board website.
The Board agreed to review these possibilities.
Kellom then raised the issue of sharing abstracts between the Bryn Mawr and Haverford communities. “We’re a bi-college community, we both have an honor code, and we both release abstracts,” she said.
The Bryn Mawr Honor Board and Haverford Honor Council do not currently share abstracts with each other, and the access of one campus to the other’s abstracts can be quite limited. Kellom introduced the option of sharing all abstracts with Haverford, or perhaps only those abstracts that involved both campuses.
The question of sharing abstracts became a concern last year when a Haverford Honor Council academic case involved a Bryn Mawr student and the Council found in favor of separation, or removal, of that student from the Haverford community. The Honor Council then recommended to the Bryn Mawr Honor Board, as outlined in the honor codes of both Bryn Mawr and Haverford College, that the student be separated from the Bryn Mawr community as well.
The Bryn Mawr Honor Board decided not to separate the student from the College, but there was a question on whether or not the Honor Board should have released an abstract to the Bryn Mawr community regarding these proceedings, despite the fact that the case was not initiated at Bryn Mawr.
Almost all of the Honor Board members present at Wednesday’s meeting agreed that sharing abstracts with Haverford, particularly in academic cases, would be beneficial to bi-college students.
“It would be helpful to read abstracts from the other college’s Honor Board cases, especially if we are taking classes at the other institution,” Margaret Fraser ’09 said. Bowes agreed. “If you’re a student at Bryn Mawr, what happens at Haverford still affects you,” she said.
The primary concern with sharing abstracts between the two colleges is that Haverford releases abstracts more frequently than Bryn Mawr does, and while Bryn Mawr abstracts run no more than one page in length, Haverford abstracts are regularly over ten pages. The concern then, for Bryn Mawr’s Honor Board, is how much information about deliberation or context abstracts can contain “before becoming like gossip,” as Kellom said.
Should Bryn Mawr and Haverford decide to share abstracts, “there’s going to have to be some kind of adjustment to make both the abstracts and their time of release more parallel,” stated Kendalyn Brown ’09.
Another concern that Honor Board members raised was the lesser degree of anonymity in social honor code cases, because these cases are more rare than academic cases and potentially involve large groups of people, rather than one professor and one student. The members generally agreed that sharing abstracts of social cases might erode the privacy of the students involved, given the greater interest of Haverford students in abstract releases compared to that of Bryn Mawr students.
However, Bryn Mawr Honor Board members agreed that it was important for bi-college students to be more aware of the complexities and idiosyncrasies of the honor codes of both colleges and the Honor Board and Honor Council proceedings.
For many people, Brown noted, “the idea is ‘don’t get into trouble and then you don’t have to understand the honor code completely.’”