Posted on January 31, 2023

Princeton’s Criminal Justice-Inspired Honor Code Hurts FLI Students

Emily Santos, Daily Princetonian, January 29, 2023

American systems of legal administration enact violence against minority populations. Examining and re-considering these structures, such as the criminal justice system (CJS), is a crucial part of anti-racist action.

Black and African American men make up 13.6 percent of the population, yet 38.4 percent of the prison population in the United States. In addition, they are the victims in 22 percent of fatal shootings, make up 47 percent of exonerations based on wrongful convictions, and are 35 percent of individuals sentenced to and executed by the death penalty.

The CJS also unfairly targets and disproportionately oppresses those in poverty, which doubly disadvantages Black and ethnic minorities, as race correlates with poverty in the United States. Discrimination on the basis of race and wealth are not only written into American laws and constitutions, but also permeate small-scale systems that model the criminal justice system.

Princeton’s Honor Code, tasked with holding students accountable and honest in academic settings, mirrors the criminal justice system in its rules and effects. It is harmful to the entirety of the Princeton community: the fear it instills in students fosters an environment of academic hostility. But it is often most damaging for first-generation low-income (FLI) students — students who also often belong to racial minorities.

Princeton, as an institution that aims to educate world leaders and brands itself with social justice discourse, must first address the existing parallels between the CJS and these smaller-scale systems we subscribe to. Specifically, we must re-examine the role of the Honor Code and Honor Committee in our community. The University should lead by example by dismantling the Honor Code system, which acts as a barrier to social mobility and a more equitable society. {snip}

Previous reporting on the Honor Code has shown the negative effects of the Honor Code process on FLI students. There can be financial, social, and academic repercussions. When caught up in the Honor Code system, FLI students may not have the institutional knowledge on how to navigate such a process in the same way their white and wealthier counterparts might.


The process of reporting and investigating an Honor Code breach parallels the criminal justice system by mimicking processes of questioning, evidence gathering, witness depositions, and an eventual move to trial, or hearing. In the same way a criminal record haunts previous convicts, any Honor Code violation for which a student is found responsible follows them in their transcript {snip}