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Honor Court cases disproportionately involve males, report finds

Women make up almost 60 percent of the UNC student body, but men are charged in almost 70 percent of Honor Court hearings, according to data released by the student attorney general’s staff.

In both academic and conduct cases, male students were charged in the majority of the 99 cases held between April 4 and Nov. 21 of last year. About 57 percent of those charged in academic cases were male, compared to 83 percent in conduct cases.

The discrepancy between the campus’s gender ratio and the trend in the honor system has some faculty and administrators puzzled.

“We would expect that the breakdown of Honor Court cases would track somewhere close to the demographic breakdown,” said Winston Crisp, vice chancellor for student affairs.

Dean of Students Jonathan Sauls said the statistics of one short time period are not conclusive to a general trend.

“If we were to move a couple of numbers, you could receive widely different percentages,” he said.

But Lisa Pearce, an associate professor of sociology, said in an email that the findings are not surprising — particularly in conduct cases.

“Sociological research has repeatedly found that the strongest predictor of criminal behavior is gender,” Pearce said.

She said the large male representation is due to one of the leading causes of deviant behavior — “strain,” or the negative emotion associated with failing to achieve goals.

Pearce said men tend to externalize feelings of strain, causing them to participate in various types of misconduct.

“If female students experience strain over not doing well in classes or having struggles in other areas of life, it may result in depression, anxiety, guilt or self-directed deviance,” Pearce said.

“But male students who experience strain are more likely to be angry and act out, possibly by cheating on an exam or other behaviors considered Honor Code violations.”

Jan Boxill, chairwoman of the faculty, said other factors also contribute, including gender distributions of the classes that report misconduct, along with faculty bias.

“General research has shown that women look at things differently,” Boxill said. “While for them, accomplishing a goal is important, getting an education along the way is also equally important.”

Pearce said perception is often heavily based on gender bias.

“It would not surprise me if faculty, staff and students at UNC were more likely to expect violations from males and therefore watch them or investigate their behavior a bit more closely,” Pearce said.

Keith Payne, associate professor of psychology, said stereotypes based on these perceptions are also a cause for the numbers.

“People tend to be convicted at higher rates whenever they’re charged with a crime that fits the stereotype of that group,” he said.

“In these kinds of cases where the stereotype fits for males, people will tend to judge more harshly.”

History professor Jay Smith said faculty only monitor suspicious behavior, rather than gender, when looking for cheating.

“I can confidently say I don’t suspect one kind of student more than another. It’s only behavior that makes me suspicious rather than a particular profile,” he said.

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