In late September, 81 upper school students came together at the Honors and Ethics Conference to discuss difficult situations that can occur on campus. Each advisory sent one student volunteer (and one advisory sent two students). Once they arrived, students were split into groups of eight, with two students from each grade level. The students sat at round tables with a moderator and listened as Evan Barth, the dean of upper school students, told them that the situations they were about to presented with were realistic, but were not real.
The students then heard three different case studies: one about two students talking between periods about a test they’d taken, and having a third student approach who had not yet taken the test; another concerning a plagiarism case with an outside confrontation; and finally, a property issues case.
The tables the students sat at were not unlike the Honor Council, a group of three faculty and 10 students whose mission is to uphold the school’s honor code. All the case studies were designed to create the same gray areas the Honor Council must discuss, and inspire conversations that were, Barth says, “entirely organic. The adults involved in the conference had to keep their agendas out of it.”
The initial inspiration for the conference came from a business ethics conference Barth attended in Arizona. Eventually, he’d like to involve other schools besides Harker in the conference so students can discuss the similarities and differences between what they face on campus, and how they’re dealing with those issues.
After the students finished discussing their three case studies, they had 15 minutes of silent reflection, and then a chance to share those reflections with the group. Barth recalls one student in particular who said that even though some cases started out seeming very black-and-white, there ended up being many gray areas, and all those areas needed to be discussed and analyzed.
“The more people talk about these things,” Barth said, “the more the level of overall integrity, both on campus and in life, has to go up. People get very excited and into that feeling of wanting to make changes while they’re at a conference, but then they leave and go back to the grind or back to their homework and that fades. The goal is to take a couple of those moments when you felt that buzz and implement them in day-to-day life.”