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An Editorial by Pilot Staff
How many times have you walked across West Quad and smelled something that was, undeniably, weed? How many times have you spotted empty White Claws and beer cans in recycling bins? How many of your friends have celebrated their 21st at Fast Eddy’s? Let’s do what Interim President John Williams did at this semester’s convocation and lay out what everyone knows is going on: Principia students break community standards all the time.
The response to rule-breaking is outlined on the Office of Student Life’s website. If a violation is reported, it goes in one of two directions. A first offense can qualify for a Restorative Justice circle, comprised of “the person offended, the offender, one or two trained facilitators, and other community members either affected or able to support the student’s growth.” The circle determines “a reparation plan that will restore losses, rebuild relationships, and build a community in which this type of offense is less likely to happen.” The second option is the more formal Community Board panel, consisting of students, faculty, and staff trained in the judicial process and standards of evidence.
Although that is stated on the website, students don’t have faith that responses to violations are consistent.
Community standards are in flux. That creates a gray area when it comes to enforcement, but it also indicates reform. Flux is a good thing, in this case, because it demonstrates that the administration wants the standards to come from the current student body, rather than be imposed. But while that’s going on, students don’t know what to expect.
The website states that a student involved with a number of things including drugs, alcohol, premarital or extramarital sex, violence, and dishonesty could draw formal discipline. The rules are clear. But the consequences of breaking them are far from it, to many students.
Earlier this semester The Pilot reported, in the print edition, on the standards issue that arose when 11 of 12 members of the Prague Abroad broke community standards while in Prague. One student was sent home, but the others remained. That decision called into question the Abroad Office’s stated zero tolerance policy for community standards violations (found on the Student Right to Know page).
The Prague Abroad was not the first. Nearly every recent abroad has had students who’ve broken community standards while away, although not all of the instances came to the attention of trip leaders, according to several students interviewed by The Pilot.
When it comes to infractions on campus, community standards enforcement often seems even more subjective than on abroads. Any reported infraction goes through Restorative Justice or Community Board, but what about the infractions discovered and unreported?
A great deal of the response comes down to the RCE who discovers student infractions. All students know in which houses RCEs routinely look the other way, and in which houses they walk into students’ rooms without knocking, seemingly to deliver cookies, as was known to happen several years ago.
RCEs are no longer required to report all community standards violations, said Maya Dietz, dean of students, in a student forum early this semester. Some students at the town hall expressed surprise, having been under the impression that RCEs were bound to report infractions. Some of that surprise was based on recent experience to the contrary.
One student who spoke to The Pilot was caught breaking house hours in what looked like a community standards violation with another student from a different house. The RCEs of both houses were part of the conversation that followed, and one reacted formally and “rolled out the troops” while the other seemed to think the infraction was no big deal.
“It’s right to give RCEs the freedom [to decide how to handle something], but at the same time you need to provide for some level of fairness,” said the student.
Let me raise another factor. Around 50 students remain on campus, accountable to community standards. But are the 300-odd students who’ve moved off campus accountable to the same?
How on earth would Principia police student behavior when students are spread across the world? It seems up to students to decide whether or not to hold themselves accountable to the community while not physically a part of it.
Bottom line – to students (and probably even some faculty and staff), Principia’s policy surrounding community standards lives in a deeply gray area.
If you have sex or drink, are you less of a Christian Scientist? Less of a Principian? More practically, will you be expelled or placed on probation? Will it affect your financial aid?
In the winter convocation, Williams addressed at least the first question, clearly delineating Christian Science and moral standards: “We need to stop conflating being a Christian Scientist [with] our moral behavior. Christian Science informs the moral behavior. But they are two different things. We will separate them, but they overlap.”
“It is a real messy thing we have to work our way through,” continued Williams. “It requires honest and direct dialogue amongst all of us. What is our faith? How do we practice it? How does it inform our behavior?”
To be fair, efforts have been made to encourage open dialogue and solicit input from students. In the fall of 2019, Maya Dietz, dean of students, submitted an op-ed to The Pilot calling on students to “own” campus culture and engage in discussions to redefine standards.
Student government began holding open town halls at which students could bring up any issue. Dietz held another town hall in partnership with Geoff Hinchman, RCE of Rackham House, during which everything from house hours, to medical treatment on campus, to drinking safely while on and off campus was openly discussed.
The efforts to begin a transparent conversation about community standards are commendable. But there is a gap somewhere in communication from the administration that leaves students feeling in the dark about repercussions.
The conversation about standards is stagnating in that gap. Administration and students need to find clarity about standards and what happens when they’re broken.
Every student at Principia opted to join the same community. No matter what motivates that decision, every student is aware that they are joining a community with unusual standards. So whatever our choices are after Principia, let’s respect the environment we’re in. Let’s progress and change in a thoughtful and productive way.
Instead of shaking your head out of confusion and heading off to do your own thing, lean into the flux and add your opinion to the discussion and help clarify standards that we can all commit to.
Because there’s one thing everyone can agree on, no matter what their opinions on standards are: Ambiguity weakens our community, while commitment strengthens it.
Featured photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.