Transparency in the HIC

April 23, 2020

The question of how to balance confidentiality with transparency hovers above our society today in many major issues. For example, during Trump’s impeachment trial, Republicans sought the identity of the whistleblower, citing the need for transparency and accountability, while Democrats justified confidentiality through the Whistleblower Protection Act. Law firms constantly grapple with the issue of victim confidentiality in sexual assault cases in the wake of the #MeToo movement. I believe this issue of confidentiality versus transparency is something that must be discussed in the Hawken community as well, especially regarding the Hawken Integrity Council.


The Senate created the Hawken Integrity Council (HIC) in 2003 to “ensure that academic and personal integrity are clear and prominent values in the Upper School culture and that accused students and students who are victims of infractions are heard promptly and treated compassionately and fairly.” 


It’s quite clear from the rest of the HIC constitution that the HIC values confidentiality above transparency. 


The very beginning of the HIC constitution affirms that “The Council is specifically aware of the [need]...for ...confidentiality in its proceedings,” an idea that shows up repeatedly throughout the text. Meanwhile, “transparency” is mentioned only once in the entire guideline - the third-to-last article at that. It’s merely glanced over in a throwaway clause that tries to talk about the need for both transparency and confidentiality but gives absolutely no recourse or standards to do so.


However, the HIC has good reasons for its emphasis on confidentiality. Mr. Cleminshaw, the Faculty Advisor of the HIC, explains that “there are no public announcements about disciplinary cases. [If we’re trying to get] educational value … [from] working with a student so they understand what they did and learn from that experience, then what is the educational value of then standing in front of the school [and] offering information about the case?”


Zayne El-Kaissi, a member of the HIC, corroborates that, “we explicitly ensure no one ever has a public punishment, since no one deserves to be humiliated in any way for what they did … making someone who made a mistake confess their sins to the entire school and feel public humiliation is antithetical to what the HIC wants—self-reflection and a sense of what to do in similar situations in the future.”


Additionally, there is a well-defined reason for the lack of publicized punishments for a given disciplinary offense. Mr. Cleminshaw justifies that due to the many different circumstances surrounding a given offense, “we don’t want to feel locked in … a 9th grader choosing to plagiarize on their first Humanities 9 Lab assignment is going to have a different response than a junior deciding to plagiarize on an AP Lit paper.”


Zayne further explains that “there is no flow chart such that ‘if they do X, punish with Y,’ since we try to treat each case individually given that no two cases are identical. We try to do what … is right for each particular student.” 


Even so, there is a need for more transparency. In my grade, the class of 2023, the concept of the “HIC” is dystopian—an omnipotent ruling body that prosecutes students from the shadows. No one knows what it does, no one knows when they will be sent there, no one knows how decisions are made. We are left entirely to our imaginations.


Furthermore, while the HIC’s proceedings are vaguely described in its constitution, it should be a lot more clear to the general student body what an HIC trial looks like, what a prosecuted student’s rights should be in the wake of such a trial, and what the general punishments for a given offense are. 


And yes, Mr. Cleminshaw describes that the HIC does “go up and explain the processes of [a hearing].” However, this announcement has not happened this year, leaving many of us in the 9th grade in the dark. 


There are a few ways the HIC can improve transparency without begetting its emphasis on confidentiality. First, the specifics of what exactly happens in a HIC hearing should be presented to students in some shape or form in the beginning of every school year; this presentation should extend beyond the expression of values or goals that we usually receive and give students an idea of how the HIC actually carries out a hearing. Next, while the current regimen of not revealing specifics of cases should be followed, the types of cases heard and their results from a few years ago should be published to the Hawken community, so that there is greater transparency of outcomes and no rigid punishments. Finally, if possible, the HIC should release the criteria it uses to make decisions.   Since the HIC emphasizes evaluations on a case-by-case basis, these guidelines just need to provide a sense of which factors the HIC takes into account when deciding a case. For instance, a factor may be the number of times the student committed the offence, or what point the student is at in their Hawken career. This release would add an increased component of accountability and increased awareness of its emphasis on educating students and learning from past wrongs.


The HIC is a unique disciplinary organization that gives students the opportunity to speak for themselves and crafts specifically tailored methods to educate those who have committed offenses. However, there is significant room for improvement in terms of its transparency to the general public. Many of the improvements that can be made are quick fixes, but would make a whole world of a difference for the many students who are left unaware about Hawken’s disciplinary system. In this manner, by not forsaking student confidentiality but also boosting transparency, the HIC can reach a fulfilling balance and continue to improve the experiences of students. 


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