“I Did Nothing Defamatory or Casting a Shadow on the Corporation and Myself”: “Honor” and “Dignity” in the Practice of Student Corporations

Since the establishment of the first corporation at Dorpat University, honor code was an important part of the Charter of each organization. Disputes concerning questions of honor, could be resolved through the court of honor or traditional mensuration.

The concept of “dignity” defined daily life of corporation — the Charter prescribed in detail how each member should behave depending on his status and specifics of situation. “Misconduct” of one was considered discrediting the entire organization. This is why it was impossible to become a “corporant” at once: corporate rules were not so strictly applied to a newcomer (“Fuchs”, or “Fox”) prior to receiving insignia (“colors”), but he was not considered “presenting” organization.

Friendly courts (“Court of Confraternals”, “Court of Countrymen”, etc.) and courts of honor

After almost complete cessation of mensuration practice and transformation of fencing into one of corporate rituals, all functions on the “honor protection” were transferred to inter-corporate courts. They existed along with the courts which met several times per semester and conducted trials on daily conflicts. It was possible for the court of honor not to be submitted for several semesters due to the lack of need. Judges also differed: the “community court” consisted of the senior of corporation, two judges and a secretary. Court of honor was summoned anew every time: it consisted of the representatives of the offender and the offended, and neutral person who was appointed as chairman.

The organizers tried to make hearings most private — except when several organizations and their members were involved. There were not minutes at the “courts of honor” — this was specifically mentioned in the Charters. Exceptions show either the urgency of the case or wrong documentation process in a particular organization.

Regulation of affairs of honor in Russian corporations in Estonia

In Russian corporations operating in Estonia in 1922–1940, codes of honor involved regulation of disputes and subsequent punishment of those responsible. Two main types of conflict situations were specific insult to the honor of a corporant or of organization as a whole.

“Insulting the dignity” of organization sometimes was included to the list of cases subject to trial at “community court”. All Charters described in detail the “right” scenario of reaction to someone's behavior if the insulted person thought that his honor was hurt. Structure of such scenario almost to the letter copied mensuration etiquette, which was adopted already in corporations at the University of Dorpat. The offender was supposed to be “called out” by the offended, after which the relationship between the two stopped and the third parties were involved.

We are particularly interested in the few remaining minutes of the courts of honor in which there was an opportunity to choose a weapon, although, under the Charters, those participating in mesurations were expelled from corporations. We assume that we have here one of the cases of divergence between “external” and “internal” policy of the organization. A copy of the Charter was sent to the University's authorities, and the clause authorizing mesurations would have caused an immediate decision to close the corporation.

In the report, we refer to the charters, minutes and correspondence of several Russian corporations: men's organizations Fraternitas Aeterna, Fraternitas Slavia, Boeteia, and women's organization Sororitas Oriens. Special attention is paid to topics related to the settlement of affairs of honor, and to the analysis of the practice of working with such situations. For this, we turn to some of the conflicts in which, according to the criteria adopted in a particular corporation, there was an insult to the honor or dignity of a member of organization or the institution in general.