The Student Court Wants to Punish AND Reward

Alexander Cartwright ’13

The Student Court’s role is to protect the interests and reputation of Hampden-Sydney College. During an Honor Code trial, this philosophy doesn’t leave us with a lot of room to be empathetic; that’s just not our job. However, this is not to say that ‘punishing’ is the only way of protecting our college. In fact, when it comes to code of conduct issues, and separation from the college is not being considered, ‘punishing’ is not the only means of sanction that the court is willing to utilize- we are willing to advocate ‘supportive’ sanctions that aim at reforming individuals who need help, and even reward them for doing the right thing.

Perhaps the types of sanctions that would pay the biggest dividends from utilizing an approach that includes more than just punishment are those involving substance abuse- specifically illegal drug use. Stricter punishments against illegal drugs would only encourage students to be more discrete about using drugs in an effort to avoid being caught. Furthermore, tougher punishments for drug use certainly do not encourage students to recommend friends with addiction problems to a counseling center, since, after all, those with a chemical dependency are unlikely to quit ‘cold turkey,’ and if they slip up just one time, they would face strict punishments. Ultimately, I fear that tougher sanctions against drug use make it harder for students to be their ‘brother’s keeper’ while also failing to actually decrease drug use.

Instead of stricter punishments, the student court has chosen to play a much more productive role in reducing drug abuse at Hampden-Sydney by incentivizing students to seek out help, and by offering them statutory protection against further disciplinary action for doing so.

Specifically, the student court has agreed to adopt the following philosophy regarding the sanctions for substance abuse violations: “Any student who seeks help from the College’s Wellness Center, or other Center approved by the College, for substance abuse issues will be exempt from subsequent disciplinary sanctions (related to substance abuse) from the Student Justice System as long as the student remains in compliance with the treatment recommendations of the Director of the Wellness Center or the Assistant Dean of Students for Substance Education. Failure to comply with those recommendations will result in disciplinary action by the Student Justice System. Any student referred to the Student Justice System for a drug violation, not enrolled in a substance abuse program, will be subject to disciplinary action by the Student Court.”

This procedure offers drastically different punishments for those caught abusing drugs and those caught abusing drugs who are seeking help for substance abuse, and asks those who have substance abuse problems to voluntarily enroll themselves in a substance abuse program. Under this policy, students with legitimate substance abuse problems would be incentivized to seek out help for their problems since doing so would guarantee them statutory protection from harsher punishments. Furthermore, with this procedure, the court would be able to identify which students are serious about tackling their substance abuse problems, and which are not interested in becoming honorable men.

In no way is the court trying to minimize the role of punishments or the importance of separating someone from the college in a situation involving an Honor Code violation. Just as the court utilizes suspension to best protect the well- being and reputation of our college in light of an Honor Code violation, we can achieve the same with substance abuse violations by following the procedure above. Furthermore, this procedure helps the student justice system distinguish between those who are taking responsibility for substance abuse from those who are not.

Most importantly, the sanction procedure outlined above allows the Student Court to preserve the self-governing culture and personal accountability aspects of Hampden-Sydney student life while simultaneously encouraging a cultural change away from drug abuse.

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