Honor Code: Creating a Culture of Academic Honesty

As a Trinity graduate, one thing that I have always remembered is the Trinity Honor Code. Growing up, going through elementary, middle, and high school, we are taught by our parents and teachers to be honest and never to cheat on a test or assignment. I don’t think I truly understood how important those lessons were until I signed the Honor Book, at my Freshman Medal Ceremony during my first semester at Trinity.

Going into the medal ceremony, I already had a feeling of how important it was.  Initially, I had planned not to attend because I had class at the same time that the ceremony was scheduled.  However, when I went to class, my professor told me it was more important for me to attend the ceremony and this changed my perspective.  Signing the book was a very short moment that had a huge impact on my view of honesty, personal responsibility, and academic integrity. Not every student who signs the Honor Book will feel as strongly as I do and may not “drink the kool-aid”, but I think for most people, signing an honor book or making a similar pledge will at least make them think twice before cheating and maybe stop them from doing it all together.

Cheating and academic dishonesty are issues that are present in all schools. They are issues that are sometimes hard to see and control. Honor codes, like Trinity’s, are an important part of education because they give the control of those issues to the students themselves. They gain a sense of personal responsibility. It tells them that it is up to them to preserve their own academic integrity and helps push them toward becoming an honest and responsible member of society. I will never forget the first time I took a test and the professor left the room. I knew it could happen because some professors felt that proctoring was not necessary due to the honor code, but it was still strange to me. I had never experienced that before, but immediately felt trusted and responsible because of it.

I can also understand how odd honor codes may seem to those who have never experienced one. I have talked to colleagues who attended other schools without an honor code and they do not understand how Trinity can allow test taking with no proctor present. A different academic environment is created with an honor code. Students are expected and trusted to do the right thing.

Honor codes are not simply used to prevent cheating, but also to have a clear process for reporting and resolving any cheating that occurs.  This process is clear to students, faculty, and administrators.  Harvard has recently had a major cheating scandal that may have been handled better had there been an honor code in place. At Harvard,  many of the students involved in cheating felt that they were justified in doing so because collaborating on test questions was a known practice in that particular class. The culture was that it was expected. Some were outraged at the way the situation was handled by the university. What is truly sad is that even though some admitted to cheating, the students still did not take responsibility for their actions and had adopted a feeling of “well if everyone else is doing it, I should too”.

When I first heard of the scandal, I thought it was crazy that Harvard, one of the most prestigious schools in the country, could have something like this happen. Yet, the more I learned about the situation I realized that nothing was expected of those students except to pass the class.  They were given a test that was take home, open note, open book, and open internet and they chose to cheat.  Here at Trinity I have taken tests with similar directions but never open internet.  I could’ve been like those students involved in the scandal at Harvard but I signed and followed an honor code.

Honor codes and cultures of academic integrity are becoming more important as schools begin to offer expanded online and hybrid learning.  The temptation to cheat is much greater when there is distance between students and instructors.  It is also easier to cheat if you are taking a class on your computer from home than it is in a classroom.  The values of honesty, personal responsibility, and academic integrity are not just for Honor Codes and college students.   We need to create a culture centered on these values for students of all ages. We need to show our students that just because “everyone else is doing it” doesn’t make it right.   What can you do to incorporate these values and lessons in academic integrity into your classroom?