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Fighting the good fight

This year is the 25th anniversary of Duke’s undergraduate honor code. Its establishment came only after a long, hard-fought battle encompassing generations of students and various administration changes. Even Duke Chronicle headlines from October 1957—over 60 years ago—detail student efforts to create an honor code. Needless to say, nothing stuck. It wasn’t until 1993, over 150 years after the beginnings of Duke University, that an undergraduate honor code was finally put into place.

Our present-day Community Standard is even more recent. The agreement we all make in attending Duke—that we will “not lie, cheat, or steal”; that we will “conduct [ourselves] honorably in all [our] endeavors”; and that we will “act if the Standard is compromised”—has only been around since 2007. Though Duke is a young university, it is still striking to realize just how new our honor system truly is. This gives us, Duke’s current undergraduate students, even more responsibility to shape the university we attend by evaluating its faults and determining how we can move forward productively.

A word that has come up again and again in my nearly four semesters at Duke is “community.” Frankly, it wasn’t until college that I really understood the term and its importance. Without people behind us, without a place that we feel is our own, without a sense of belonging and participation, it becomes much easier to feel lost and lonely—two other terms I’ve come to understand quite well in the past two years. The need to cultivate community and our university’s common identity is critical to experiencing the Duke we all desire.

And nowhere is this clearer than in Duke’s Community Standard. Honor and integrity are so much more than not cheating on an exam or avoiding plagiarism in a paper. Academic integrity is important, but the Community Standard can’t stop there. Honor and integrity extend into our personal relationships, our day-to-day interactions, how we treat each other, and how we live in a community with others.

This is why Duke Honor Council has made an effort to explore a variety of topics in the past year. Sexual misconduct is one example; because honor also means treating each other with respect and recognizing each other’s personal integrity, it is crucial that we work to end sexual misconduct on campus. With a panel featuring Duke Men’s Project and the Gender Violence Prevention Group as well as the Censored Women’s Film Festival, Duke Honor Council hopes to begin a conversation around what we, as members of Duke’s community, can do to combat sexual misconduct. We also hosted an event with Durham Mayor Steve Schewel, keeping in mind that honor within our community isn’t just constrained to Duke’s campus. We’ll look to continue these conversations surrounding honor and all its implications to our community, both at Duke and within a broader context, in the future.

It’s easy to forget why we’re at Duke in the everyday rush of classes, activities, and commitments. It’s also easy to put issues on campus out of our minds so we can focus on all we have to do. But we should not forget that regardless of what we choose to pursue in our time at Duke, first and foremost we are members of Duke’s community. We have an obligation—and an incredible opportunity—to shape what that looks like.

With only a few short weeks left in the school year, now is an excellent time to reflect on our Duke experiences and what we’d each like to see in the future. I think we all realize this, but sometimes we need a little reminder that an honor system is most effective when we all choose to participate. This means that we all must take time to consider our personal experiences and that we all ought to recognize that everyone’s participation in the honor system is critical to its success. The Community Standard can’t succeed without a community behind it—and it’s up to us to create that community.

This week’s column was written by Ann Bailey (T’20).


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