The Not So Secret Council

DELIVERING JUSTICE The honor council keeps their meeting location secret, but the council posed for a mock trial in the ARC. Photo by Tiffany

In history classes, urban legends and college campuses, secret societies cloak themselves in mystery.

Hockaday’s Honor Council is not a secret society, though it does stress confidentiality in order to help students learn from their mistakes. As Dean of Student Affairs Meshea Matthews said, it’s about how not to be there again.

After the process is over, in fact, the goal is that the student can reenter the Hockaday Community as a stronger member of the Honor Code environment. It just turns out that what helps the student achieve this is having her peers fairly unaware of what happened.

Contrary to this, however, the council has decided they want the community to be a little more informed, in general terms, about what goes on in the Honor Council. To start, here’s the disciplinary procedure:

First, a teacher reports a violation to Matthews. Matthews then begins correspondence with the teacher and the student about the specifics of the process. New this year, both the teacher and the student will write a written statement of what happened. By doing this, girls and teachers can recall what happened accurately during the hearing. Next, Matthews meets with the student, who explains to her in person what happened.

On the day the council hears the case, the teacher speaks first, often now reading their written statement verbatim for assured accuracy. He or she often brings physical evidence to aid the Honor Council, who asks the teacher questions such as what instructions were given for the assignment. Then the student, separately, usually accompanied and supported by her advisor, talks to the council, again starting with a written statement. The council asks the student questions as well.

After the student leaves, “we vote on whether we think there was a violation in the first place,” Honor Council President senior Brianna said. “If that’s unanimous, we go on to look at precedents.”

Dean Matthews keeps a file of past cases and their consequences so that when similar cases come up, the council can make consistent decisions. The Honor Council looks these over and then makes a recommendation to the Discipline Council, which consists of four faculty members including the Head of Upper School John Ashton, the Dean of Student Affairs Dean Meshea Matthews and two other faculty members, currently Latin teacher Dr. Andre Stipanovic and English teacher Janet Bilhartz. This council can make changes to the recommendation if it sees fit.

The range of consequences varies widely but is usually one (or a combination) of the following: grade penalties, a day or multiple days of separation, out of school suspension, reflection work and reconciliation with the faculty/staff member who presented the case. The main variables that influence this decision are the type of violation and the number of times the student has appeared before the Honor Council.

The job of a student on Honor Council is not an easy one. To begin with, there’s no way to train a new member because hearings are uncomfortable and tough emotionally for all.

“It’s hard to describe until you’ve been through a case,” Myers said. In addition to other things, the girls have the responsibility to set a good example for their peers as well as to encourage and help them where the Honor Code is concerned.

Matthews agreed, saying the council “trains new members on procedure and policy but cannot prepare them for the emotional piece.”

The council reminds new members to respect girls that have to come before the council. “Confidentiality is important; we talk about that first,” Matthews said.

Still, the council wants the Hockaday community to know more about what’s really happening inside the council, so they shared some of their thoughts about being on the council.

In ongoing efforts to be consistent in their decisions, the girls only consider information about the case that is presented to them during the meeting. In addition, the girls ignore everything they know about a girl’s background, focusing only on the case at hand. The exception is if the girl is a repeat offender, in which case the previous violation is also considered. Myers said that any background you know on the person cannot affect your decision.

“It can go both ways, from ‘I don’t trust her’… to ‘Oh, she’s my best friend’ but you can’t let it get in the way.”

The council members ask students questions during hearings, but when a senior sits in front of the council, freshmen representatives can feel a little unsure. It’s a challenge that they grow out of.

The council wants to help the student and does so first and foremost with respect. If Honor Council girls see a student in the hallway, they don’t act any differently, and this allows girls to get back into the trusting Hockaday environment. This, said Honor Council girls, can be slightly challenging, and that challenge is very hard to prepare for.

According to Matthews, the job grows more difficult in certain situations, like when girls don’t admit that they violated the Honor Code. Other difficult cases that council members mentioned ranged from when teachers’ and students’ stories don’t match up to when girls cry while the council is asking them questions.

Honor Council member junior Tiffanie said another hard case is when girls “come for the second time. You would hope that by the first experience, they would have learned.”

The Honor Council only sees about four to eight cases each year. Matthews admits, however, that they know there are other cases that go either unreported or even unseen.  At crunch times during the year, they know that violations happen even though students don’t want to be tattle tales.

The Honor Council has the added duty of informing the student body about the Honor Code. The council’s seasonal reminders such as the Twelve Days of Honor push honesty in fun ways. In January, the Honor Council is holding an assembly where they will discuss in even more detail trends and types of cases, mainly using data collected from the last four years.

“Honor Council is important because one of the things that we try to do is clarify the Honor Code so that there are hopefully no misunderstandings about what is a violation of the Honor Code,” Honor Council member freshman Sam said.

Honor Council representative sophomore Christine had another take on what the Honor Council does for Hockaday.

“Our community is dependent on trust. The Council helps promote and encourage and remind everyone of the importance of honesty.”

– Emily