By Luke Stone ’20
J. Carter Walker wrote in his “Statement on the Honor System” in 1951, “The Honor System is the most precious heritage of Woodberry Forest boys from those who have preceded them in other years,” clearly establishing something that most already know to be true: The Honor System is the cornerstone of our school’s culture. And that system, he wrote, “Rests upon the conviction that boys want to be honorable and want to be trusted,” but that they must also realize “that to be so trusted, they must prove themselves worthy of trust.”
Periodically, the age-old question, “Do room searches violate trust?” dominates dinner-time table debates and evening study hall breaks. Before going any further, it is important to note that the school, in the past, has only resorted to searching rooms because they have had probable cause to believe that the residents of the rooms in question were up to no good. Room searches typically are not done on a hunch from a skeptical duty team member who thought he may have seen signs of inebriation. They are calculated. And they should be. If they aren’t warranted (and if other past room searches had come up empty), then there would be a reason for outrage. But room searches are a perfectly reasonable response on the part of the school because the unassailable fact is that recently, we, as students, as the lifeblood of this school, have proven ourselves unworthy of that trust upon which our community’s very culture depends.
It is also worth asking this question: When was the last time that the school searched a room and was dead wrong about it? I have heard of several cases in recent years, but I have not heard of an unsuccessful room search this year. The powers that be are being deliberate and intentional in room searches to minimize their negative impact on faculty-student trust. If any party has violated the trust, it is the offending students, who have not, as J. Carter Walker would say, “proven themselves worthy of that trust.” Room searches are the school holding up its end of the bargain and trying to hold accountable members of our community who have shown they can’t be trusted.
In his explanation of American nuclear disarmament policy, President Ronald Reagan preached a doctrine built upon, ironically enough, the Russian proverb, “Trust, but verify.” And trust, as has been said many times before, is a two-way street. Implicit in that trust is a willingness to be held accountable when we break it. If the school placed a blind trust in 400 fourteen to eighteen-year-old boys to always be doing the right thing, it’d be naive, foolish, and irresponsible. And because room searches often prove guilt rather than innocence, it is abundantly clear that not all of us are worthy of the trust we are so freely given by the school. If the school really didn’t trust us, it would have searched the rooms of every single student who has received demerits for tobacco. And why don’t they do that? The only logical answer is that they do care about the trust that should, in a perfect world, exist between faculty and students. Instead of bringing in drug-sniffing dogs, for example, the school has invested in substance awareness resources. I’m not trying to be an administrative apologist, I’m just saying that maybe we, as students, should compare what the school could be doing to what is actually being done before we make generalized, inflammatory claims like, “they are out to get us.”