Becoming More Honorable

“I’m not honorable.” “I’m always late for meetings.” “I lie all the time.” This is just a sampling of the excuses given last year by people who did not want to run for the Honor Board. I realize that many of these were said in a joking manner, but there is a troubling thought lurking behind this. The Honor Code is something every student signed, promising to live by it for their four years at Olin College. Is the Honor Code a document we sign once and then forget about, or are we supposed to live by its values every day? The following is an examination of individual clauses of the Honor Code in action.

The Integrity clause of the Honor Code reads, “I will represent myself accurately and completely in my work, my words, and my actions in academic and non-academic affairs.” Lying is clearly a direct violation of this clause. I see this clause broken most frequently when people probably do not mean to tell a non-truth. For instance, committing to do a certain task for a project or club and then not follow through on it is an inaccurate representation of one’s self. If someone is not going to do an assigned task, I would rather that they tell me before I count on them to finish it or as soon as they realized they could no longer complete the task.

The Respect for Others clause in our Honor Code reads, in part, “I will be patient and understanding of fellow community members, and considerate of their inherent dignity and personal property.” This starts with respecting, rather than ignoring, choices people make that differ from your own. I wish we had a culture where people felt comfortable talking about ‘taboo’ topics. In her article from the November 2014 Frankly Speaking, “Religion and the Broom Closet,” Claire Barnes said, “We as a community need to be able to have open, productive conversations about all aspects of life, including religion.” I agree. However, we have yet to achieve that level of respect at Olin. In my classes lately, I keep hearing things such as “because we’re all engineers we think…” Yet not everyone in the room is thinking the same thing. As soon as comments are made dismissing any other opinion that could be made, the environment can become hostile for anyone who thinks differently. When we leave the Olin Bubble, the diversity of opinions we encounter and need to work with is likely to grow. If we cannot respect each other here at Olin, how are we going to fair upon entering ‘the real world’?

Creating a culture of respect in all aspects of life is a long-term challenge. I invite you to start with the simple action of respecting others’ time. I have been on exactly one project team at Olin where every single person on the team committed to showing up on time. And it worked! I have been told it could never happen at Olin, yet it did. As a community, we have implicitly decided that habitual tardiness of 10, 15, 20 minutes is acceptable, but when my team decided that we should respect each other’s time, the difference to our team dynamics was amazing. In addition to having the full, scheduled time to meet, meetings no longer started with annoyance at teammates for being late, so the meetings began in more collaborative manner.

Openness to Change we frequently think of as being willing to try new things. This clause in the Honor Code reads, “I will be receptive to change, supportive of innovation, and willing to take risks for the benefit of the community.” To fully live this, we need to be receptive to new classes, new professors, trying new things in established classes. We also need to think about how we talk about such experiences. “Linearity sucks” “Don’t take [class] with [non-Olin prof]” Supporting innovation requires actively engaging in the process. Instead of stopping at “linearity sucks,” continue the process of improvement by figuring out why linearity sucks and also what is going well. Engage in a respectful conversation with the professor. Will it always work? No, but trying is important. Taking risks is not a passive activity.

I end with a request. Please look at the small places where you personally are not living up to the Honor Code and try and change. Choose a couple of clauses of the Honor Code to focus on, then try to live out the spirit of these clauses in full. As the Do Something clause says, “I will strive to better myself and my community and take responsibility for my own behavior…” To me, this surpasses the guilt trip ‘Do Something’ is frequently used as. The Do Something clause sounds to me like a way of life. I hope you see it as the same.

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