Author’s note: This article discusses rape.
An honor code is a set of rules that colleges set in place for their students to follow; and they’re not always bad. Plenty of colleges, including Princeton University, have them, and use them to encourage students to reflect the values of their university in their day to day lives. For instance, honor codes can discourage cheating, and place responsibility on students to report their peers for violations. However, some honor codes, like those at Brigham Young University and other faith-based schools, are considerably more restrictive; their honor code forbids consensual sex before marriage, revealing clothing, and use of drugs and alcohol, among other things.
Rules like these can make students, who have been raped or sexually assaulted, more hesitant to approach school officials, for fear of being considered unchaste and facing punishments. Victims who were high or drunk during their attack are also afraid to confess to breaking the no drugs and alcohol ban.
“You’re creating a systemic unwillingness or barrier for victims to come forward and access the resources of the university for fear that they’re going to be punished,” Brett A. Sokolow said to the New York Times.
Sokolow is the executive director of of the Association of Title IX Administrators, an association that holds schools responsible for complying to the gender and sexual equality ruling of Title IX. Title IX has been around since 1972, and in essence states that no student should experience discrimination in, or be excluded from, any federally funded educational setting. Title IX also works to ensure that victims of sexual harassment are treated fairly when reporting their attack to school officials. Last month, Brigham Young University came under fire for punishing female students who reported their sexual assailants, a clear violation of Title IX principles. BYU students rallied together to protest their school’s unfair policy, one in which sexual assault victims are forced to remain silent to avoid losing scholarships or being removed from their school.
In order to follow Title IX regulations while maintaining honor code values, some honor code schools have instated amnesty policies. Medical amnesty policies protect underage students who seek help for their own alcohol-related incidents, such as sickness or injuries, or for those of other students. Medical amnesty policies are not meant to encourage underage drinking; they’re simply meant to make students feel safer getting help from their school when they or their peers are at risk of alcohol poisoning or other unsafe, alcohol-fueled situations. Not only does medical amnesty help save the lives of overly-intoxicated students, it can also protect those who were drinking during the time of their sexual assault by providing “limited immunity” for their underage drinking offenses. As mentioned above, many students already experience enough fear and stigma when it comes to reporting their rape; the looming threat of expulsion because they were drunk during the attack certainly won’t help to ease that fear.
There’s nothing honorable about silencing students who were raped, nor is there anything honorable about kicking students out of what is meant to be a safe place for learning, for something that is so completely and tragically out of their control. Whether these honor codes can be remedied through the inclusion of an amnesty policy, or by somehow loosening the rules, it is important for all college campuses to accept and support victimized students, not turn away from them.