For many undergraduates, the onset of summer recruiting marks the beginning of the season of student discontent on college campuses. The pay and prestige of internships exerts a gravity that pulls the student body into auditoriums for info sessions and Vondy for coffee chats. Networking is a kind of social Olympics—one where students suit up, smile and compress college experiences into bite size stories perfect for conversation starters or interview responses. Each answer we give ties back to a fundamental question that everyone at Duke is trying to answer—are we good enough?

That specter of self-doubt characterizes the cheating culture within the classroom. In many cases, academic misconduct at Duke occurs not at the margins of passing (e.g., from an “F” to a “C”) but at the thresholds of self-defined success (e.g., from a “B” to an “A”). The phenomenon is striking— when we cheat, it’s not to be good; it’s to be the best. Those kinds of actions don’t occur in isolation. Rather, they arise within a specific social context that’s created and perpetuated by the culture of our community.

We’ve previously analyzed this culture by addressing the various elements of honor on campus, from describing the ideals underpinning our norms, to detailing the potential policy pitfalls that can lead to misconduct, and advocating for the importance of community self-regulation. Our discussions have primarily focused on ethics in the classroom—because after all, Duke is first and foremost a school. But the Community Standard isn’t just limited to the lecture hall. If anything, the first pillar,  “I will not lie, cheat, or steal in my academic endeavors,” is intended to provide a foundation for the second tenet, which exhorts us to be honorable in all our endeavors.

But one area where discussions of honor have been noticeably absent is the pursuit of our professional futures. This topic arose in an Honor Council discussion, during which we noted how recruitment was essentially the next iteration of the high achievers’ rat race. We asked whether this process triggers the same attitudes that characterize the “cheating culture.” According to the 2012 Report on Academic Integrity, it appears so. This student describes it best: “Exaggerating on your resume? My mom TOLD me to do that!”

In some ways, this isn’t surprising. Haven’t we always been taught to get ahead? To be the best?

However, this kind of ends-justifies-the-means attitude is exactly the kind of slippery slope that puts students at risk of misconduct. After all, the story you’re selling when you interview is about yourself. Once we begin to rewrite the details of our own lives, we start to lose sight of our moral compass’ true north.

Honor Council members are students too, and we get it. We feel the same pressure when curves make classrooms an experiment in “survival of the fittest.” We feel the same struggle to stay afloat in the sea of Duke students during recruiting. Most pressure is self-imposed, and the source of our stress is often the standards to which we believe we’re supposed to compare ourselves.

But the purpose of this column isn’t to rag on recruitment (because getting a job is indeed tough) or to tell you not to stretch the truth on your resume (as Duke students, we know better). We hope to instill a recognition that the foundations in character we build at Duke aren’t limited to the lecture hall, but instead are intended to carry on throughout our careers. “Cheating”—whether copying answers or stretching the truth on resumes—is hard to resist because it “feels like everyone’s doing it.” 

But don’t listen to the devil on your shoulder. A report compiled by Duke includes data showing that Duke students are more moral than we think we are. We believe that cheating is unavoidable, but these perceptions far outpace reported incidences of it. This is not unlike how we believe that everyone’s drinking each Wednesday night and still effortlessly acing his or her midterm at 8:30 on Thursday morning. Changing these norms requires faith, and that belief in the importance of integrity starts with each of us.

And if you believe that cheating is still far too accepted within the student body, the silver lining is that we can all take an active role in shifting our community’s culture. For breaking honor out of its silo necessitates that we think critically about how morality manifests across Duke’s different communities—and then take the steps to begin bridging them.

Duke Honor Council's column runs on alternate Fridays.