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'I'm here to get a degree, not an education'

For many students, Duke is just "the next thing." We go to college, we study, we take tests, and we move on. Up ahead are foggy objectives like status, wealth, or success. To actually get an education and acquire an independent mind is now obsolete and in today's society—this notion is dangerously prevalent. 

Societal expectations force us to choose either learning or success, but not both. Most manufactured students who are smart, talented, and driven are lost in this bubble of privilege, and with it comes little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose. We are great at what we do, but have no idea why we're doing it. 

Over the years, the values of honor and integrity have seemed to fade behind the curtain of recognition and fame. We applaud those who are noble when nobility should really be an expectation. Many of us go to great lengths to make ourselves known in this competitive culture. We were all used to being at the top in our high schools and not the small fish at this university. The neglect we feel fosters unhealthy insecurity and as all Duke students are trained to solve problems, we counter it by trying to uphold a presentable image, to rise back to the top to find our original safe haven. But the truth is, it shouldn't matter how people see you. Having honor means respecting the opportunities we have and taking pride in our work, not compromising that by being dishonest or pursuing something just to promote our image. We've become black holes who just absorb information and routine rather than comets and stars pulling away from standardization. 

It's certainly difficult to choose integrity over image—there's no question about that. In most cases, if we choose the harder right, we will take the lower grade. Cheaters almost always get away with academic dishonesty and no one ever notices the "noble ones.” In the past, Duke has seen a disturbing number of cases of academic dishonesty. Such cases include altering answers for regrade on economics exams, copying code for an assignment, or lying on a resume. And sadly, the people who don't partake in these poisonous practices are only punished by the duplicity of others. Although professors have now devised ways to prevent certain methods of cheating, students will always find a loophole. The solution isn't countering students' cheating methods, but to alter the fundamental values and approaches they have to learning. At MIT, first semester freshmen have the opportunity to "ghost" their grades for the fall semester as an effort by the university to promote students to enroll in courses that genuinely interest them. Cheating is rooted in the desire to want to achieve high marks and when the burden of grades is lifted, students then experience the freedom to learn with no obligations. Grades certainly are necessary to assess a student's knowledge, but giving Duke students a small opportunity, such as ghosting first semester grades, would spark the intellectual curiosity that was always embedded among all of us.   

2018 marks the 25th anniversary of the Duke undergraduate honor code. A majority of students however don't know what the community standard is, let alone that it even exists. Bringing back a learning environment of collaboration instead of competition starts with integrity and taking academic honesty seriously. The Duke Honor Council this year has moved forward with a project involving the inscription of the honor code on plaques to be hung in all classrooms around campus. The goal of this initiative is to bring awareness and ingrain the importance of honor in all students. 

At Davidson College, we are able to witness the monumental role their honor code plays in their community. Students benefit from freedoms such as take-home exams and unproctored, self-scheduled finals but the essence of this comes from a trust between students and faculty. The honor code deepens the bond between students and encourages personal responsibility and genuine learning. Of course there are dishonest people at Davidson and the majority of students here at Duke have strong moral values, but the goal of Duke's Honor Council is to propagate this mentality to all its students. A culture stressing the importance of character and morality is far more important than a culture emphasizing success. 

Here at Duke we are offered the most fertile, intellectual soils. Our ideas are like seeds and the world is waiting for us to grow our outlet of passions. Students who take pride in their genuine interests and uphold that with honor are the leaders of this world. They don't take the freedom they have for granted and they embrace the individuality inside themselves. College is a place where education is the primary focus and if students prioritize learning above all else, then success will be inevitable. 

*This week’s column was written by Dustin Zhu (T’20).


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