January’s blizzard dumped an impressive snowy deposit for New Jersey. Casting my mind back to that wintry Friday night, I remember that the falling snow did nothing to dwindle the number of eager partygoers flocking to Prospect. Princeton students are a persistent lot.
The storm did not really pick up until midnight, so many students left their dorms or pregames without the warm, snow-proof attire that they would desire later in the night. In a disgraceful turn of events, many of those who did come prepared ended up walking home coatless anyway because of solipsistic — or perhaps simply inconsiderate — people who feel entitled to steal from their peers, colleagues and fellow ravers.
Any upperclassman would advise a freshman not to take an expensive winter coat to the street because it is apparently common knowledge on our campus that we cannot trust each other. We lock up bikes like we’re protecting our firstborns, and we’d consider the person who leaves their laptop unattended in Frist to be a fool. Yes, strangers can steal a bike, and any malicious visitor to campus could take a laptop, though its unlikely that these relatively prevalent acts of dishonesty are entirely the product of outsiders. Eating clubs, at the least, require a PUID, so we as a student body are exclusively responsible for the theft occurring in the weekly jacket exchange.
I don’t aim to instill guilt by drawing attention to these issues, nor do I necessarily aim to convince the perpetrators to stop — though it would be widely appreciated. Rather, I’d like to raise a question of honor.
We live, as students and scholars of Princeton, by the Honor Code, which obliges us to a standard of academic integrity and honesty. But the concept of an honorable education moves us beyond “obligation.” Rather, it genuinely compels us to be honest students. I have not yet met anyone who empirically disagrees with the tenets of the Honor Code, and I have met many who are proud to be trusted and respected by the administration.
If we are responsive to honor in the context of academic integrity — if we find “cheating” so morally abhorrent — then why do we stomach the fact that we can’t trust each other to bring our own darn jackets? In our consideration of honor, we should look at all of the moral challenges of our day-to-day lives, not just our final exams.
Having said this, it is difficult to convince a thief to stop with a few quick words. But the Honor Code has two mechanisms of operation, and so can our solution to campus theft.
Honor compels us to be honest in our studies, but it also compels us to keep our peers honest too. We have no proctors in our examinations. Rather, we have a social expectation to do the right thing, and the knowledge that our community won’t tolerate anything else.
When we see someone carelessly take another’s coat off the hook or straddle a bike that they clearly don’t own, we should be motivated to intervene by that same desire for an honorable Princeton. In most cases, a quick word is all it takes to help someone remember their civility. I don’t believe that our campus is riddled with bad people; I think that we have simply forgotten the broader meaning of honor.
Recovering that honor will allow us to trust each other more, and it is possible with practical steps: being proactive witnesses rather than passive bystanders and holding each other accountable to a social honor code.
Samuel Parsons is a freshman from Wangaratta, Australia. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.