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With midterms in full swing and finals on the horizon, undergraduate members of the Honor Council—the student-faculty body tasked with implementing the College’s first honor code—are reaching out to their classmates in dining and lecture halls about the goals and philosophy of the young committee.
Before the Honor Council replaced the College’s Administrative Board in hearing cheating cases this fall, some undergraduates and faculty members were skeptical that it would actually prompt any true “culture shift” around academic integrity on campus, as its creators say they hope it will. Now undergraduate Honor Council members say they are looking to make strides in changing how their peers think about and discuss academic integrity, an effort they say is going smoothly so far.
“The honor code asks us to be reflective and introspective in a different kind of way,” said Nathaniel R. F. Bernstein ’17, a voting member of the Honor Council. “We’ve been looking for a lot of different ways to engage the community in conversations about what academic life is.”
Bernstein and other Honor Council members have been hosting informal office hours in their dining halls to discuss the honor code with students. Council members have also visited some classes to give short presentations on what the policy entails: Students are now required to sign an affirmation of their awareness of the honor code before each final exam and include an affirmation statement with final papers and projects.
“There are still some people who are skeptical as to whether or not [the honor code] is going to be an effective agent for change, so the d-hall office hours provide us an opportunity to explore those concerns,” Bernstein said.
Bernstein added that the Honor Council chose to meet in the dining halls because they are “places that are central to our experience as undergraduates—places where we learn from each other.”
According to Matthew J. Vegari ’17, a voting member on the Council, the office hours have seen “varying degrees of success,” but he said he has received largely positive feedback from students.
“I think we’ve had tremendous success with the freshmen, not only because we do the most outreach, but also they’ve never been to a school without an honor code,” Vegari said. “With the higher up students, there’s a little bit of cynicism, but most people have come around to the idea that this is not going away—that Harvard College will be a school with an honor code.”
The Council’s attempt to engage upperclassmen comes three years after the College’sinvestigation into the Government 1310 cheating scandal—Harvard’s largest in recent memory—when most current seniors were freshmen. Though that incident helped propel administrators’ efforts to create and enact the honor code that established the Honor Council, the scandal is far from Council members’ minds as they look to change the undergraduate academic culture, said Jack W. Jue ’18, a student academic integrity fellow involved with the body.
Instead, the Honor Council is focusing on moving forward and “trying to actually change the culture” around academics at Harvard through direct contact with students, Jue said.
“Communication is important for making any change actually happen, because what happens on paper only goes so far,” Jue said. “You have to actually work with people you’re trying to help to change.”
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