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I go to the type of college that has an honor code that strongly affects academics. Homework is often a sheet going around and we check off whether or not we did the problem set (as opposed to turning things in), usually we either take quizzes online or pick them up when we feel like taken them, and I have never even taken a proctored exam. What’s the reason for all this madness? We have an honor code that I signed during orientation that says I will not cheat.

The idea of an honor code is fantastic. I love that I schedule my own finals, don’t have to worry about leaving my problem set in my dorm and will never have to take an eight am final if I don’t want to. But the reality is that the honor code frequently gets violated, cheating is happening all around campus. While I can only speak to my experience at my college, I have heard similar stories from friends at other colleges with honor codes.

More then once I’ve sat with a friend with her textbook open as she frantically finds answers for her online Biology quizzes. The quizzes aren’t open book, she knows that but she is pre-med and stressed about doing well. I know of people who have walked into bathrooms during finals to see people with their textbook open on their lap and their final in their hand despite their final not being open-book. When you sit at a table in the less popular parts of the science library (usually the mandatory testing location for un-proctored STEM exam where you get X number of days to go to the library and take the exam), you see equations for math and physics scrawled into the tables. You see other people peeking at their notes, which they have set on their lap below the desk/table. Sadly, the examples are sadly never ending.

So where do I stand on honor codes? At the end of the day I love the freedom that my honor code provides. But at the same time it can be quite bothersome when you are in a class of 75 where the professor curves exams and you can’t help but question if some of those higher scores were earned honestly. The reality is that for those of who aspire to attend graduate school, our GPA and whether or not we will get Latin honors is impacted by the performance of out peers. We might not want to have other people’s cheating effect where you stand, but it does.

Then there is the morality of cheating, I have never once heard of a good reason from a moral perspective to cheat. Morality aside, the presence of cheating presents a huge problem. The reality is that despite having an honor board and huge consequences for being caught, most of the cheating goes undetected. There is no way to simultaneously maintain the positive aspects of the honor code environment while putting in place a system where it will be harder to cheat. The second you add restrictions to when we take our exams, or where we can take them or if we have to physically turn certain things in is also the moment where students lose the trust that they have worked hard to establish. At the end of the day it is a minority blatantly violating the honor code but that minority is having a huge impact on the community.

I admit that I am a bit scared for the future of not only my college, but also all of the other schools with honor codes. For now it is a small enough portion of the college cheating that the honor code will stay in place. But in the high-pressure world of a college full of over-achievers who can say with certainty that this will remain the case. I hope that if one day I have children who decide to attend what will then be my alma-mater that they too will be afforded the luxuries of a community rooted in trust as a part of the honor code but I have no idea if this will be reality.

If I had to do the college admissions process all over again I would still pick a school with an honor code. It is fantastic to know that your professors trust you and that you have one less thing to stress about. But at the same time I wish I had known that when you take off the rose colored glasses there is the reality that despite each of my peers pledging to adhere to the honor code that this is not the case. At the end of the day there are the ideals of honor codes, which are fantastic and also the realities of honor codes, which can be hard to swallow.

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