Defining Character

Patricia A. McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University in Washington, D.C., offers the perspective of a college administrator about character as it relates to students preparing to apply to and attend college.

Colleges and universities seek students who demonstrate high moral character. University leaders desire students who will contribute richly to a campus community, not only through scholarship, leadership, service, and citizenship, but with a mutually inclusive commitment to trust, honor, and respect. I serve as president of Trinity Washington University, and in this role I offer vision, leadership, and voice to the traditions that define this institution. At Trinity, we cultivate and celebrate the growth of our students and the manner in which they serve the nation, local community, campus, and ultimately, the world. Therefore, character is very important to us.

As a university president, I define character using the following ideas:

  • a concern for and personal commitment to a community;
  • an individual's integrity, honesty, and trust;
  • an unwavering pledge to abide by established policies and regulations;
  • a willingness to stand and be an advocate for those who are experiencing adversity;
  • a demonstrated commitment to fairness and social justice; and
  • a respect for the rights, needs, reputation, and intellectual and physical property of others.

I encourage students to assume responsibility as a member of the campus community and to hold others accountable to the high ideals of mutual trust, honor, and respect. Then character, as articulated throughout the Trinity Honor System, becomes a way of life integral to and imperative for a living and learning community. However, these expectations are not just for students; they are the responsibilities of all members within a community.

I must also share that these standards are not just for the academic and/or physical spaces. Your character extends to virtual communities, with even greater importance on how you treat others and represent yourself. Character, then, is personified by the norms and obligations enacted by individuals for the good of living, learning, and virtual communities.

There was a time when it was assumed we all understood the importance of respecting each other and honoring similarities and differences. In current times, we cannot assume those same commitments exist. How you treat, view, and respond to each other provides a clear indication of your character. As you plan for success in college and career, remember the influence your character has on your opportunities, relationships, and future contributions to society.