Monday, February 28, 2011

Gentleman's Rule

"The student is expected to conduct himself at all times, both on and off campus, as a gentleman and responsible citizen."

The Gentleman's Rule is one of the hallmarks of Wabash College as the campus's sole rule--and its easy to see how the rule opens itself up for deconstruction. The rule shows an implicit categorization between the student and through the presence of an indefinite "authority" that will certainly punish the student for any transgressions. This authority's power can be subverted though, because the students' ability to define the "conduct" appropriate of a gentleman can combat the stricter interpretation professors or deans might adopt. The language itself is also a subtle display of power--the rule shows that the campus faculty wield a power over the students by insinuating that responsibility and gentlemanly behavior is preferable--thus inculcating a value system that the students will replicate in their own behavior and transfer on to new students.

And besides all that already mentioned, the deconstructionist would point out what empty words "responsibility" and "gentleman" are--the words don't even get the chance to gain meaning through differentiation with other less desireable behaviors. A "gentleman" could be a scholarly, bright individual, but the world could also mean a licentious, snooty, stuck-up individual who condescends to his peers. The rule implies the first meaning, but the ability of the word to portray poloar opposites exposes all the varying interpretations the word could take in the varying middle grounds.


  1. Wyatt's analysis seems right on point. Donald E. Hall's chapter on deconstruction and poststructural analysis focuses on the social construction of language and the reasons why we need a sense of meaning in our language. Along that vein, why do we need something like the Gentleman's Rule? Poststructuralists emphasize relational meanings. Thus, it is pertinent to ask what the Gentleman’s Rule stands in opposition to. Was it established to implicitly distinguish the College from others with large rulebooks and student codes of conduct? If that were the case, is it effective? We have to ask what presuppositions the Gentleman’s Rule supports. It presupposes that the students will follow its expectation—which is really more of an implicit command. A rule is supposed to be a “command,” not an “expectation.” Thus, a fundamental blindspot of the Gentleman’s Rule is that it is not a rule that commands Wabash students on how to conduct themselves. It is an expectation assumed to be “unassailable truth.” We never question the Gentleman’s Rule. And we never question the structural meaning of a “gentleman,” and I think that’s what Wyatt does in this post. “Gentleman” carries with it several “polyvalent meanings” just as Hall asserts that all signs do. Accepting one stable meaning is a fallacy to which, considering a poststructuralist reading, we cannot ascribe.

  2. Both Wyatt and Riley make great points concerning the fallibility of the Gentleman's Rule. The nonspecific terms "gentleman" and "responsible citizen" evoke a vague understanding based on our own cultural upbringing. I know what it means to be a gentleman because of my society's definition of the word. However, Wabash College and its "Gentleman's Rule" were created in 1832. Society has changed considerably in that time period. Therefore, it can be assumed that the definition of the word "gentleman" has changed as well. The Gentleman's Rule can never be fixed, as a structuralist perspective may assume. Instead, it is a rule that is constantly moving at the pace of changing cultural perceptions.

  3. I agree with Riley that Wyatt does make a good point about the cultural understanding of what it means to be responsible, a responsible citizen at that. To some people that could mean a law abiding citizen, while to others it could mean something completely different. The Gentleman"s Rule has a different meaning to everyone because it isn't discussed to what it's meaning is other than Freshman orientation, but at the same time it still leave room for there to be other perceptions of what the Gentleman's Rule means. Not only does the meaning vary on the cultural perceptions of what it means to be a responsible citizen, but a personal perception as well. Some people take it as they should be a responsible citizen by being a law abiding citizen, while others use it to their benefit and say the Gentleman's Rule gives student the room to do whatever they please, even if it isn't behavior of a "responsible citizen" as long as they don't get caught.

  4. Ok, so all of your points are valid within the post-structuralist context. However, it pains me to see that we would touch our traditions with this approach. The Gentleman's Rule is not meant to have a specific meaning or anything of the sort, it is a concept for us to apply. I find it incredibly pointless to try and deconstruct a tradition, it contradicts everything that a tradition stands for.