Suspensions and Discipline:
Comments from Debra Shaver
by Debra Shaver
Director of Admission
The disciplinary question is not meant to find out all the “bad” things students have done. Colleges understand that students are people (just like admission officers), capable of making mistakes or bad judgments. We’re not in the business of re-punishing students, either. We are, however, in the business of building a community. Most importantly, a community of scholars-but also a community that engages and interacts in a way that is respectful and honorable. This is what we’re trying to determine through the disciplinary question.
Students shouldn’t fear answering the question honestly. It’s paramount, in fact, that students do so. Many colleges, like Smith, have a very strict honor code and if we discover that a student has been dishonest in the application, we question whether the student will uphold the principles of the honor code once in college.
The nature of the incident is certainly taken into consideration by admission officers. Some infractions are more serious than others. A student who was caught smoking cigarettes in the bathroom is not looked at the same as a student who plagiarized. A student who participates in a silly prank will be viewed differently than the student who intentionally destroys property.
If you answer yes to the disciplinary question, you will also be asked for an explanation. This is the opportunity not only to explain the nature of the infraction and any disciplinary action taken, but to also detail what you have learned from the experience. This is key for admission officers. Not just that you won’t do the same thing again, but that you have learned something about judgment.
Two recent incidents stand out in my mind. One involved a student who plagiarized her essay. If she had accepted responsibility and explained what had happened, we would have offered her an opportunity to submit another essay. Instead, she “stood by the essay.” She clearly was not ready to admit her mistake, accept responsibility and learn from her poor judgment. The other incident involved a student who had sex in an “inappropriate” place on campus. As a mother, I might think that any place on campus would be “inappropriate.” However, I appreciated that she clearly understood her error in judgment, accepted the disciplinary action by her school and learned from the experience. In addition, she was able to view the situation with honestly, maturity. and a bit of humor.
In the end, most disciplinary violations are minor. Through the explanations we often get to know a student better. In fact, many times we’re impressed by how a student handled the experience and what she learned.
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Debra Shaver is the Director of Admissions at Smith College.