First Person: Honor, Justice and Forgiveness, Spencer Zeplin ’13

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Spencer Zepelin '13

As I walked out of a nondescript conference room for a break in the middle of an Honor Council hearing, I bumped into a familiar Davidson Campus Police officer. He was there as a
witness for the hearing at which I was serving as a representative. The same officer had only recently written me up for a Code of Responsibility violation. We acknowledged one another as I shuffled past to get a drink of water and stretch my legs a bit. As I walked away, I heard him say to the chair of the Honor Council, “So, do you have two cases today?”

It apparently hadn’t occurred to him that someone who had been subjected to Davidson’s system of justice might participate in a deliberative body tasked with its enforcement.

Justice—too often a euphemism for “punishment”— comes in two flavors: retributive, i.e. you’ve done wrong and now you have to pay, vs. restorative, i.e. you’ve done wrong and now you need to help make things right. Few sentences (for which the Honor Council’s tidy euphemism is “sanctions”) in the real world are entirely one or the other; most sentences tend to be a little bit of both. As a community, the Honor Council tries to take a restorative approach. However, the job of a representative often comes down to determining what type of punishment to mete out—a task that is neither fun nor glamorous, and far more painful than rewarding.

The most meaningful experiences from my nearly four years as a representative have taken place after the hearings, during interactions with those individuals I helped sanction. In the few instances we’ve crossed paths, those individuals have shown amazing grace and maturity, where they might just as easily have responded with bitterness and ire.

But it should always happen that way: if the Honor Code is intended to work toward restorative justice, toward the instruction of its students and community, it requires one element that is not explicitly stated—forgiveness.


Even if every hearing before the Honor Council were open, that fact should not change the way students treat their peers. One action does not define one’s character. Sanctioned individuals should be able to expect forgiveness.

Honor is not a binary. It is not something that you strut around campus with until you make a mistake, and suddenly it disappears. Honor is the moment-by-moment choice we make to think about what we do, to evaluate our actions honestly, and to proceed deliberately. The purpose of the Honor Code extends far beyond the confines of Davidson College. It is meant to develop reflective individuals who engage more actively in the context and events of their own lives. True adherence to the Honor Code also includes a willingness to forego judgment of others, to allow them the freedom to continually redefine and strengthen their own character.

The ideal representative for the Honor Council need not be one with a past as pure as the driven snow. Recently, I sat on a heartbreaking case where both the defendant’s guilt and remorse were beyond question. He mentioned that he thought about running for the Honor Council in the future. I hope he does. We could use more representatives who’ve sat on the other side of the table.

Read more about Honor at Davidson.

The Honor Code

The Honor Code and Pledge

On Our Honor (2006 Davidson Journal feature on the Honor Code)

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