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Here’s what it’s like to be an Honor Council Justice

Carolyn Cafro, a new Honor Council Chief Justice, poses by Willingham Chapel Feb. 25.
Carolyn Cafro, a new Honor Council Chief Justice, poses by Willingham Chapel Feb. 25.

While a warning about the Honor Council is included in nearly all syllabi, the experience of what it’s like to be an Honor Council Justice and what the Honor Council really does is shrouded in a kind of mystery.

Part of that is because there are only three types of students who can attend Honor Council hearings: Honor Council Justices, students accused of cheating and student witnesses. All three are bound to confidentiality per the published Rights and Responsibilities for students charged with plagiarism. Student witnesses prevented from discussing the investigation with anyone other than the Investigating Justice, Chief Justice or student counsel. Justices themselves are bound to confidentiality as members of the Honor Council.

The Honor Council itself is composed of roughly 25 students as members of the council, with a student-run executive board. The executive board is only composed of three students: the Chief Justice, Associate Chief Justice and the Clerk.

“Having a student Honor Council, there’s a different gravity to it in that it gives students a chance to be judged by their peers, and I think in a way, we can have more understanding as peers than a faculty council would have,” said former Chief Justice Gabrielle D’Alessandro.

While primarily operated by students, the Honor Council also had an advisory board of five professors that change every semester. They also work with the Provost if they want to make changes to the Honor Code and meet with the deans for appeals.

The average Honor Council member is called an Associate Justice. D’Alessandro said that the position isn’t too much of a time commitment, even on a weekly basis. Associate justices are required to attend five out of roughly twenty possible hearings per semester, along with any general meetings.

Associate justices are also required to investigate at least one case per semester, where they’re the Investigative Justice for that case. When investigating a case, D’Alessandro described the position as more time-consuming, because the justice is meeting with the professor, student and witnesses to collect information and evidence.

After the case has been explained, the justices deliberate over the verdict and, if found guilty, sanctions. Most sanctions tend to fall under one of the following categories: a letter of censure, which is on your academic record; an educational sanction; a zero on the assignment, which D’Alessandro said was the most common; course failures or suspension or expulsion.

Former Associate Chief Justice Kallie McDaniels said that there has been a move towards more educational sanctions.

“I don’t think anybody would say there’s value in only punishing and not educating and explaining and making it a teaching moment,” said McDaniels.

When a student receives an educational sanction, the Honor Council will send one of the directors in the Academic Resource Center all of the information about the case and any other relevant information. The director meets with the student to help walk them through what they didn’t understand.

McDaniels used a plagiarized paper as an example for an educational sanction, where a director would help a student understand the plagiarism by going through the offending paper. She said it was an intensive process for several weeks, including activities to better understand the topic. It’s a confidential process, so students won’t know if someone is in the ARC for an educational sanction.

McDaniels said that most students who have an educational sanction don’t return to the Honor Council.

“We want to make sure that people don’t make these mistakes again, but we don’t want to just be judge, jury and executioner,” said McDaniels.

Both D’Alessandro and McDaniels encouraged interested students to consider applying for the Honor Council. They said their experiences helped them grow as students and leaders.

“Something I appreciate about Mercer’s Honor Council, and Mercer in general, it’s a learning opportunity to learn and grow from your mistakes,” said D’Alessandro. “They want to give you the opportunity to prove yourself and become a better student, and I think our sanctioning allows for that.”


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