In November 2017, the Honor Council sent out anonymous surveys to both students and teachers in hopes of shedding light on the scope of plagiarism and cheating taking place at Woodstock. The survey results raised some serious questions about the moral standards held by both students and teachers at the school.
Out of all the students that took the survey, 52.6% answered that students did not have high standards of academic honor and integrity. Furthermore, 57.7% said they had cheated during their time at Woodstock. This included plagiarizing, cheating on a test/quiz, copying homework, and helping someone cheat.
To Honor Council member Lila Morzadec, Class of 2019, the fact that more than half of students cheat wasn’t the most surprising part. Morzadec said, “The most shocking part was that students had absolutely no clue what the Honor Council was or what it did.”
Seventy-eight percent of students reported that they didn’t know about the Honor Council Buddy system, which assigns a partner to those who commit frequent infractions. In addition, when asked to explain the Honor Council’s role, the response “I don’t know” was frequently seen.
For example, ever since it was instituted in 2009, the Honor Council has always faced backlash regarding its image, with its members often referred to by names such as “snitches.”
Honor Council member Emma Karas, Class of 2019, said, “We don’t actively go out to look for people who cheat—that’s not our job.”
According to the Honor Council, it is the responsibility of teachers to uphold integrity in the classroom.
Morzadec said, “Most people think that we’re some kind of ‘self righteous police,’ which we’re not. We don’t go around snitching or encouraging people to snitch. We just deal with cases that are referred to us, and a solid 95% of cases are referred to us by teachers themselves.”
In fact, members do not see themselves as disciplinarians.
Honor Council President Summer Kang, Class of 2018, said, “We’re an educational body, not just a disciplinary body. We’re trying to help, not just punish people.”
Another big challenge for the Honor Council has been to get to the root cause of why students in the school feel the need to cheat.
According to the survey, 41.2% of students reported that they cheated due to poor time management, and 35.1% said it was due to laziness. Other reasons included parental and peer pressure.
“When something doesn’t feel meaningful to learning, it’s easy to cheat,” Karas said. “Plus, most students that took the survey couldn’t define what academic integrity was, so I guess they cheat because they can’t differentiate what it is and what it isn’t.”
Exactly what is academic integrity? According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, it is “an expectation that you will make choices that reflect integrity and responsible behavior.” Furthermore, “Honesty is the foundation of good academic work. Whether you are working on a problem set, lab report, project or paper, avoid engaging in plagiarism, unauthorized collaboration, cheating, or facilitating academic dishonesty.”
Shyla Robinson, Class of 2020, suggested that the biggest reason students cheat is because teachers sometimes fail to explain assignments well. “There’s clarity needed, which we often do not get,” she said.
Robinson was sent to the Honor Council in fall 2017 after she shared her biology research homework with a friend, unaware that the friend would copy the whole thing. She said, “I accept that what I did was a little dumb, but students share their work all the time to help and support each other.”
Cases like these bring forth further questions like whether those who aid others in cheating should be punished as well.
Ms. Meredith Dyson, staff adviser of Honor Council, said, “The Woodstock Honor Code clearly states ‘I shall neither give nor receive assistance.’ They couldn’t have cheated without your help. You’re as much part of the problem as the person who cheated.”
Karas said, “This is a drastic example, but if someone committed murder, and you cleaned the murder weapon, you’re still an accomplice even though you didn’t commit murder.”
This is not the only situation in which concerns have been raised about the Honor Council’s fairness.
Remay Pemba, Class of 2020, was sent to the Honor Council during her first semester at the school for plagiarizing on an essay. Pemba said, “I was new and I plagiarized like three words. They were nice to me and let me tell my side of the story, but I still don’t think I deserved the consequences.”
After her Honor Council hearing, Pemba was asked to write an essay and an apology note to her teacher as part of the consequence. She said, “I didn’t understand the assignment, and the teacher refused to help me because he was busy. Teachers should understand the amount of work they give us on top of everything that we already have,” suggesting that students sometimes cheat because of too much work.
“Most cases we get are not of students taking four or five APs with a lot of workload,” Karas said. “I guess that’s because someone taking that many APs has academic discipline and is aware of the importance of academic honesty. You shouldn’t take someone’s money, what makes taking someone’s ideas any different?”
Kang said, “The scariest part is, 30% of students haven’t taken the survey, so the scope of cheating at Woodstock is probably much higher.”
Students are not the only people of concern to the Honor Council.
To Ms. Dyson, the most shocking thing revealed by the survey was that although more than 70% of teachers answered that they had caught a student cheating or plagiarizing, only 30% said they had reported said cases to the Honor Council. “The staff is not making use of the Honor Council,” Ms. Dyson said.
Kang said, “It’s a fifty-fifty relationship. Everyone needs to put in effort. We can’t help if we’re the only ones putting in the effort.”