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Honoring the Honor Code

Herbie's picture


The Bryn Mawr College Honor Code guides our interactions as students through both academic and social issues. The Honor Code does not seek to censor us as students, but rather to hold us “accountable for our actions and thoughts” (Farber). The Honor Code assumes this role by encouraging “a concern for others, a respect for diversity, and a commitment to dialogue” (Handbook 91). Tour guides tell prospective Bryn Mawr students about the Honor Code during the tour and describe the way this document shapes the way our community, giving prospective students an opportunity to choose whether or not to join our community.  Perpetuating our community values, as laid out in the Honor Code, comes through our thoughts and our actions both on and off campus. These core values still form the “foundation of …our interactions with one another” (Handbook 91). 


At Plenary in Spring 2007, the then-outgoing Self Government Association (SGA) president proposed an resolution to extend “the honor code to all virtual space, holding students accountable for what they say online” (Farber). While she specified that “nowhere in our honor code does it outline what you and cannot say [… and the] idea of putting rules in our honor code actually contradicts the purpose of our honor code” (Farber), she hoped the addition to the Honor Code’s application would make us as students more aware of our actions on the internet. She clarified that there “wouldn’t be anyone policing online” looking for honor code infractions (Farber). Rather, the honor code would operate as it always had: student-initiated confrontation, regardless of where or to whom a Bryn Mawr student made a statement. Extending the honor code to online activities merely allowed students to confront others about their actions and statements.


As part of the resolution’s debate, students expressed concerns about whether or not this extension of the honor code’s purview constituted censorship, despite arguments from the presenter that the resolution was “not about censorship [but a] natural extension of the honor code” (Farber). One student worried that the resolution would discourage dialogue between students. Another student submitted an amendment to the resolution to limit accountability to statements made after a prospective student has officially agreed to attend Bryn Mawr. Despite some objections, both the amendment and the resolution passed and are now active parts of the Bryn Mawr honor code (Farber).


As students, we are encouraged to learn from and about each other in order to garner more knowledge about diversity in an increasingly global and connected world. With the advent of the internet and the sheer quantity of time we spend on its millions of websites, the resolution is more applicable than ever. Recently, students, faculty, and staff at Bryn Mawr began an avid discussion of the Anonymous Confession Boards (ACBs) and how the anonymous confessions taking place there fit into our honor-code driven culture. With the ACBs arrival into Bryn Mawr culture, it became crucial for Bryn Mawr to discuss how to handle confrontation in a venue where anonymity is the primary purpose. Without a specific person to confront as laid out in the honor code, Bryn Mawr as a whole felt angry and unsettled. The ACBs were in direct violation of the honor code, but given that they were not owned by or managed by a Bryn Mawr student, the community was at a loss.


A reporter for the Bi-College News argues that the students used the ACBs so extensively because the honor code “limits the level of controversy that students allow themselves to exchange” on the internet (Lobo), likely directly related to the creation of the resolution from the 2007 Plenary. Students who use the ACBs feel free to discuss intensely personal issues such as sexuality, depression and other mental health issues, body image, and many other, often embarrassing, topics. However, the ACBs also created a venue in which students could criticize and name faculty members they found attractive, other community members whom they dislike, and a place for unnecessarily inappropriate word usage and name-calling.


Student opinion regarding the ACBs was divided. Some students found that the many positive discussions that emerged from anonymity more than compensated for the insensitive, thoughtless, or cruel remarks made there (Lobo). Other students felt that our responsibility under the honor code was to “report” offensive remarks to the ACB website, which would take down the thread or individual comment within twenty-four hours (Bakke). However, the crux of the problem was where to assign accountability, which is the most central tenant of our honor code. Due to the anonymity, “no one is ever accountable for what they have said” (Bakke). Without accountability, confrontation cannot occur, and issues between two students cannot be resolved. Though the possibility of reporting exists on the ACBs, many students were still unsettled with that as their only option. However, the ACB site is the only one of its ilk that offers such a feature, and students agreed that the ACBs were more manageable within the honor code than the myriad of other sites designed to let students vent their frustrations anonymously (Bakke).


Nonetheless, students remained concerned about policing the ACBs. One then-senior best expressed her worry that she does not “want companies that know about these websites to search for my name. I don’t think it’s my responsibility to constantly keep up with the site and see if my name is on there” (Bakke). Here, the fear lies not only in the present, but also in the future and what online information about her says to future employers or admissions offices.  The Department of Public Safety cautions students to remain aware of their actions and statements on the internet, and publishes an official statement in the annual student handbook.

keep in mind that with the increased effectiveness of search engines and the archiving of web pages, material posted on any Web site may be available years from now. Personal and student organization home pages, entries and invitations on Facebook and similar sites, as well as ideas posted on public forums reflect on you and may be viewed by prospective employers. […] Such posting can seriously compromise your good name. Handbook 91

However, then the question becomes, how can we as students control representative information about ourselves when we are not the ones actually posting the material?


As Bryn Mawr students, our responsibility is to our own thoughts, actions, and statements, whether made on or off campus, on or offline. Though anonymity frees us from traditional constraints and social ramifications, we as Bryn Mawr students still have a responsibility to remain accountable for our actions. Part of our education at Bryn Mawr includes learning to handle difficult social situations and to take responsibility for everything we say, no matter how unpopular that statement may be. Though the honor code should not censor our thoughts, we should be prepared for the consequences of our actions, no matter what those may be.


Sources Cited:

Bakke, Katherine. "SGA Talks Anonymity and the Honor Code." Bi-College News <>

Bryn Mawr College Honor Code <>

Bryn Mawr College Student Handbook 2009-2010 <>

Farber, Becky. "9 Approved at BMC Plenary." Bi-College News <>

Lobo, Sheila.  "Bryn Mawr Gets Anonymous Confessions Boards." Bi-College News <>




Anne Dalke's picture

Honor in Virtual Space

second life

I preface my comments with an image of a Bryn Mawr student manipulating her avatar in Second Life (a site she helped design). This is a means both of figuring "honor in virtual space," and of inviting you to think a bit about ways in which your own on-line work might be made more inviting and accessible to readers. (Your formatting's great, btw, as are your active links, which function as easily consultable footnotes, offering both a strong sense of the ways in which your work is grounded in your research, and a means of extending further dimensions where readers might go exploring. Along those lines, I'd also recommend activating the links in your "sources cited" list.)

I'm delighted to see you exploring and documenting here (one of) the ways in which Bryn Mawr's Honor Code has been updated in response to internet activity, and altered to address on-line forums. The history you provide here raises a series of further, intriguing questions about where (given the existence of a virtual world) the BMC community "resides." In what ways are questions of privacy and civil rights changing in the electronic age? (Is another plenary resolution needed, perhaps, to re-define what privacy means?)

If the core of the honor code is personal accountability, you argue, then the use of anonymity on the web is a means of avoiding that commitment. As Bakke writes, "without accountability, confrontation cannot occur, and issues between two students cannot be resolved." So you seem to be suggesting that on-line anonymity is antithetical to "what Bryn Mawr wants to be...."

...although Lobo's argument that the ACBoards offer a needed outlet, given on-campus restrictions on proper speech--because the honor code “limits the level of controversy that students allow themselves to exchange”--is also one I'd like to hear more fully developed. How much does the Honor Board actually operate to "censor speech" on campus? How might we learn to better handle the responsibility of participating in larger conversations? (Are students actually familiar with the honor code? How might we make it more accessible?)

You conclude by saying that "our responsibility is to our own thoughts, actions, and statements," that Bryn Mawr students must "remain accountable for our actions." As I read the Honor Code, however, it highlights a much stronger social dimension than your conclusion implies: maintaining that we are also responsible for one another, and responsible--on behalf not only of ourselves, but of the community of which we are members, and which we are working to uphold, "not only in the present, but also in the future"--for encouraging and enforcing acceptable behavior in one another. That is, one should not only refrain from misbehaving, but confront someone else who is.

Such a sense of ourselves as members of a social group may be one means of addressing the question of how "we as students [can] control representative information about ourselves when we are not the ones actually posting the material," as well as the concern that "it's [not] my responsibility to constantly keep up with the site and see if my name is on there." Rather, it is the responsibility of us all to maintain vigilance on behalf of one another...yes?